Do you know how to effectively implement a time out?

What exactly is time out?

En Español

Time out is a type of behavioral modification technique that involves temporarily separating or removing a child from an enjoyable environment due to their bad behavior. The goal during time out is to ensure that the child does not receive reinforcement or attention for a period of time. It is a method used to decrease undesirable or unwanted behaviors. It allows the child to calm down and reflect on the particular behavior that caused him/her to go to timeout.

How to effectively implement a time out:

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The basics of a time-out—by the numbers:
1. Warn your child first, “If you don’t stop, you’ll have a time-out.”

2. Name the behavior (i.e., “don’t hit”). For younger children, you might have to explain in more than one way what the unwanted behavior is as they might not understand what you are saying.

3. Have your child go to a quiet place, like a corner of a room, not the bedroom or a play room.

4. Start the timer—1 minute for each year of age. For example:

  • 2 years old = 2 minutes
  • 3 years old = 3 minutes
  • 4 years old = 4 minutes
  • 5 years old = 5 minutes

5. If your child leaves the time out area, have him/her go back. If he/she throws a tantrum during time-out, ignore it unless there is danger of harm.

6. Restart the timer. Explain that he needs to “stay put” until it’s over.

Can children younger than 2 years old go on time out?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points out that it would be acceptable to apply a time out in children as young as one. However, you should use this technique only as a last resort. It Is almost certain that, at this young age, your child does not have yet the self-control and cognitive skills required for the time out to be effective.

The AAP establishes that for the time out to be effective in children younger than 2, it is important that you act immediately (while the child is performing the unwanted behavior). It is also important to calmly and in very few words, tell your child he must go sit somewhere else. Later, give him attention as soon as he calms down, instead of waiting for him to sit still for a certain amount of time. If you resort to time out for this age group, make sure it’s for valid reasons like when your child hits, bites, or does not obey after been warned several times.

If your child ages 1 to 2 does not understand the concept of time out, there’s no need to worry. Another technique that works very well at this young age when their behavior is inadequate, it is to divert the child’s attention to another activity or another place. For example, if your child is opening the kitchen drawers and this is not acceptable to you, remove the child from the kitchen and go to another room in the house where the infant is safe and able to be entertained with another activity.

The most important thing is to be consistent with your methods of discipline every time your child doesn’t obey your rules.

Where should my child go during a time out?

The first thing to decide is where your child should go during time out. It is imperative that your child is safe during time out, so make sure you choose a visible location in the house so he/she can be easily monitored and supervised.  For example, don’t put a young child upstairs in the bedroom while the whole family is downstairs in the kitchen or living room.

What should be the expectation during a time out?

The child must stay put and you must stay calm and quiet. It is important that the child stays in the location for the entire duration of the time out. You could use a timer to make the duration of the time out more obvious. This way the child will know how much time is left. You could also have an older child count while they wait. This could keep them focused and more likely to stay in place. For children older than three, they may be told to go to timeout and come back when ready. This can help them practice self control.

Make clear rules to be followed:

  • The child should not talk, make noises, get up, play with toys or electronics, or watch TV during the entire duration of time out.
  • The parent or caregiver should avoid talking or communicating with the child during timeout as this would defeat the purpose of “removal from attention”.

What are the advantages of time out?

As you and your child get use to this behavioral modification method, you will realize that there is less yelling and screaming on your part and less unwanted behavior on the child’s part.

Time out is a good alternative because it does not involve any kind of physical punishment, which would result in poor self-esteem and other emotional problems for the child. As you teach your child about their behavior, he/she will learn rapidly which behaviors are acceptable and which are unacceptable.

It can also help both the parent and the child cool down after a heated situation. Learning how to calm down and practice self control, are such important life skills that will help the child in the future. Time out encourages children to form positive beliefs about themselves, their world, and their behavior. With the correct guidance from you, they can learn from their mistakes and problem solve on how to do better next time.

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Disclaimer: The content in this blog is not to be considered medical advice and it is not intended to replace the relationship you have with your primary care provider. If you have specific questions, please contact your physician.