Time-out is a technique used to teach young children how to control their behavior. Time-out is an opportunity for the child to calm down or regain control of his or her behavior. If your child has trouble sharing a toy, you may even decide to put the toy in time-out.
It works best when your child is old enough to understand. This is usually around age 3 years. Time-out also works best when the usual behavior of parents is to make frequent, brief, physical contact with the child when he or she is behaving as expected (an activity called time-in).
Time-out works best when your child is doing something he or she knows is not acceptable and just won't stop, such as hitting or biting. Time-out is not effective if it is used too often or if it is used for behaviors that are not within a child's control. For example, time-out is not appropriate for a child who accidentally wets his or her clothes instead of using the toilet.
Before you start a time-out:
- Have a timer on hand.
- Select a place in your home for time-out. It needs to be a place without distractions. Do not use a bedroom. Do not choose a dark, scary, or dangerous place. A chair in the hallway or corner of a room may work best.
- Practice the time-out procedure with your child when he or she is in a good mood. Explain that misbehaving, such as throwing food or not sharing toys, will result in a time-out.
The time-out procedure includes telling your child why he or she is going to time-out. State only once, "Time-out for having a temper tantrum." Then:
- Direct or take your child to the time-out place. If you need to carry your child, hold him or her facing away from you.
- Set the timer for the time-out period. The rule of thumb is 1 minute for each year of age, with a maximum of 5 minutes for time-out.
- At the end of time-out, say to your child, "Okay, time-out is over." Also, let the child know in some way that you love him or her, such as a hug.
While your child is in time-out:
- Stay calm, and do not act angry.
- Find something to do, such as read a magazine or talk with a friend on the phone.
- Don't talk about your child.
Current as of: February 10, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics