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Making Time-out Work for You

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When it comes to disciplining young children these days, most families turn to time-outs. Nevertheless, many parents who come into my office seem unsure about exactly how to use this technique, and some confess that "it just doesn't work." Here are some strategies and suggestions for making time-outs an effective tool.

Time-out basics

    • Time-outs work best starting when children are 18 to 24 months old and until they're about 5. Although every child is different, children younger than that don't really "get it," and older kids generally need more sophisticated ways to learn how to behave well.
    • A time-out is a period during which a child is removed from the troublesome situation or temptation. It's his chance to calm down, regroup, remember what is expected of him, and get organized again. If the time-out creates more attention, energy, upset, or interaction with the parent or care provider, it is doomed to failure.
    • During a time-out, the child does not get to interact with the parent or care provider. A time-out is meant to be a minor form of isolation that says, in effect, "When you do this, you can't be a part of things."
    • In order for time-outs to work, you need to establish a time-out pattern. This requires an initial investment of time that most parents find worthwhile. If you've used time-outs unsuccessfully in the past, the initial time investment will be greater than if you've never used them before. Resetting a child's expectations is harder than getting it right the first time, but it's still worth the time and energy.

The set-up

    • Place a chair in a boring, neutral spot, such as the corner of a dining room or a rarely used entrance area. I don't like to use a child's bedroom because it creates negative associations with a place that should be a safe haven. A bedroom also tends to contain too many distractions.
    • Be sure the place is away from the "scene of the crime" and away from care providers. Being in the middle of things provides too much opportunity for compounding the problem with teasing and provocative behavior.
  • Be sure the time-out location is a safe place where the child can be left alone without supervision. For example, the top of a staircase, near breakable items, and next to a door that he can open are all NOT the places to pick.


Member comments

Food Thrower
Our 22-month old daughter, Libby, will throw food on the floor when she is getting close to full, ev..

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