How to Make Time-Outs Work

Children need to be taught discipline from a very young age. When used in the right way, time-outs can prove very effective in instilling the right behaviour in children.

By Arun Sharma  • 6 min read

How to Make Time-Outs Work

While there are many ways of instilling discipline in children, parents can use time-outs as an effective and consistent strategy. However, for time-outs to be effective, parents need to know how to use it.

Let’s look at some of the ways in which time-outs can be used effectively at home.

List out unacceptable behaviours: Children need to understand which behaviours will attract a time-out. So, sit with your child and list out all the unacceptable behaviours for which he will be given a time-out. For example, hitting, indulging in disruptive or dangerous behaviour, or not complying with instructions. This will help your child understand what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and when he should expect a time-out.

Prepare the child: Tell your child how she should conduct herself during a time-out. For example, she should remain quiet and be seated on the chair until told to get off it. Also, tell the child about the consequences of breaching the time-out routine, like the time-out starting over again. Explain all these to your child in an age-appropriate language. You can also do a mock run with your child to help her understand what would happen if the rule is broken.

Choose a location: Select a room where the child would be visible to you and at the same time would find himself away from toys, TV, windows and anything else that he can entertain himself with. In one corner of such a room, place a chair on which the child should sit during the time-out. It is important to remember to not send the child for time-outs to the bedroom, where he may find something entertaining. Also, don’t switch off the lights of the room where the child is sitting for a time-out, as it may scare him.

Other points to be kept in mind

Beginning the time-out: Send your child for a time-out as soon as he indulges in inappropriate behaviour. Delaying time-outs may make it ineffective. During the time-out, don’t lecture or scold your child, and ignore her protests, if any. Also, be calm when sending your child for a time-out. Yelling at or pushing her into the room for a time-out can make your child feel that it is a punishment.

Duration of time-out: It is important for parents to understand that time-outs should be kept brief. Rose Allen, Extension Educator, in her article, ‘Using 'Time Out' as a Discipline Tool’, published on the website of University of Minnesota Extension says, “A good rule is to use one minute for every year of the child's age. Keep in mind that the goal of time out is to calm the child down. The amount of time this takes will vary from child to child. It is also important that the time out should be short enough so the child can return to the situation and correct his or her behavior.”

After the time-out: After the time-out is over, and your child has complied with the rules, allow him to get back to the activity he was previously doing. This would help him understand that time-out wasn’t a punishment but was meant to reflect on his inappropriate behaviour. If your child behaves well after the time-out, encourage him by praising his good behaviour.

Most parents are tempted to use time-out whenever their child breaches discipline or act inappropriately. However, parents should remember that overusing time-outs can diminish its effectiveness. Praising the child after he has finished his time-out and corrected his behaviour is important as it plays a critical role in making time-out an effective tool. 

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