It seems like the trend of using time out is fading out in modern parenting. Do a google search and you will find tons of results about why you shouldn’t use time out anymore. But, a timeout can and DOES work well. The problem is that almost every parent out there is misusing it.
These simple timeout tactics will completely change the way you feel about time out, and it will make time out WORK the way it’s intended to.
Forget What You’ve Heard
All the “rules” to time out that you’ve heard before … ball them up and throw them in the trash!
You’ve probably been told the typical “put your children in time out for 1 minute per year of age” thing. Or that you need to make sure they sit completely still and silent.
When your child’s been in time out in the past, have you found yourself threatening “Stop yelling or I will add another minute to your time out!”? Forget it. That doesn’t help or work. Is it effective at making your child stop yelling? I doubt it.
You’re probably spending the whole time out frustrated, trying to insist your child sits still and stays quiet.
I’m not sure who made this stuff up but it doesn’t work.
What’s The Point of Time Out?
Using timeout can show your child that acting up means they will lose your attention for a short period of time, it can help them learn how to deal with anger, and can prevent things from getting worse.
It also gives you, the parent, a chance to think about your child’s behavior. This can help you stay calm and problem solve more efficiently.
Effective Time Out Tactics
Taking time out to cool down is a great way to teach your child to deal with angry feelings. The truth is, timeout should not be your go-to for minor problem behaviors.
You should first try to deal with behaviors by using techniques like redirection and planned ignoring, using positive reinforcement, and communicating/problem-solving with your child. Only when these other methods are not working should you consider time out.
But, timeout is a good option for your go-to way to handle major problem behaviors. These are the behaviors that should never be ignored or excused, such as:
- Physically aggressive behavior
- Verbally aggressive behavior
- Destroying belongings (theirs or others)
- Putting themselves or anyone else in harm’s way
You want to teach your child that these harmful behaviors are completely unacceptable, and maintain zero tolerance for them.
1.Time Out Spot
You and your child should choose a timeout spot together. It should be a place where you can still see your child, so do not do time out in their bedroom. It should be a place that is boring for them, but safe. There shouldn’t be any toys or books to play with, or anything entertaining to look at.
You may use places like the bottom of the stairs, or a specific chair, or just a designated area, like near a certain wall.
My kids do their timeout on the stairs. They sit on the floor on the landing that is half way between our main level and top floor. There is nothing there to look at or do, but I can still hear them, and see them if I need to.
Amazon even sells customized timeout mats with your child’s name, if you wanted to set up a personalize time out area.
2. How Much Time For The Crime?
Timeouts should be short. Usually, a couple of minutes will do. The minute per year of age thing is not a hard fast rule. The most important thing is that your child is quiet and calm for at least 30 seconds before the timeout ends.
You want your child to be calmed down when they return to play, or whatever they were doing. So you may decide, as a general rule, to set timeouts for three minutes. But, if your child is still distraught when the time is up you may need to add another minute on the timer to give them the chance to calm down.
The timeout should never exceed 10 minutes. If your child is still angry and acting out after that much time, you may need to reassess the situation and come up with a different plan for dealing with that behavior. If your child has special needs, there are many strategies you can try for self-regulation to help your child calm down.
3. Give a Warning
Before giving a time out, give your child a warning that timeout is imminent.
Make sure you have their attention by being near to them and talking to them calmly and directly. Let them know that if they do not stop what they are doing, they will go to time out.
After you give the warning, give your child a chance to do what you expect.
Wait ten seconds for your child to comply. Don’t stand over them during this time. I recommend counting to 10 in your head. When your child isn’t listening 10 seconds can actually feel like an eternity. But, children need time to process what you are saying and follow through. They do not always process information as quickly or efficiently as we do.
The exception to the rule: The only exception to this rule would be if your child was being physically aggressive toward someone or breaking things. In this situation, you should always remove them and send them to timeout right away.
You want your child to learn that this behaviour is completely unacceptable and that there will be no warnings it just simply won’t be tolerated.
4. Your Follow Through
After you have given a 10 seconds warning, you must always always always follow through with the timeout if your child hasn’t changed their behaviour. None of the other timeout tactics are more important than staying consistent on your follow through.
Send your child to the time out spot, and let them know that you will talk to them when the timeout is finished.
Stay close by, but do not argue or bargain with your child. Don’t even look at them.
Ignore them. Ignore all yelling, whining, and complaining. Time outs don’t need to be quiet, you just need the last 30 seconds to be quiet and calm.
Too often parents find themselves in a situation where they are demanding their child be quiet for the whole time out. Remember, these little people are mad and don’t yet know how to control their impulses all of the time. (You can read here about how the part of the brain responsible for reactions and impulses develop and how to set expectations)
Wait until the timeout is over to talk about why their behaviour was wrong and what they can do instead.
5. Now Make Sure Your Child Follows Through, Too
In order for time to work your child needs to follow through at the end, too. This means they must:
- Be quiet and calm for at least 30 seconds before the timeout ends
- After the timeout, return to the task and complete it as expected
Timeout should not be a way for your child to get out of doing something they don’t want to do. You want your child to learn that in order to avoid timeout they must do what is asked, and to calm down or stop a behavior when you give a warning.
If they don’t follow through with what was expected before the time out, they may begin using it as an avoidance technique when they’re expected to do unwanted tasks.
- If your child leaves the designated timeout spot, direct them back to the spot. But don’t speak to them, or make eye contact. Interaction and attention should be as minimal as possible.
- If your child starts to listen after you’ve said “time out”, it’s too late. Otherwise, you may teach them they only have to listen when you finally decide to give them a timeout.
- Using a visual timer like this one can help kids calm down faster and are great for children with special needs and sensory issues.
- If your child is screaming and yelling but is in a safe place, ignore them. They are trying to get your attention and will likely stop after a few times when they realize it isn’t effective.
- Always have a meaningful conversation with your child after the timeout is over, when they are calm and receptive to what you are saying. This is the best opportunity to teach your child what they can do instead next time, and why their behaviour was wrong.
If your child has special needs, do not give timeouts for meltdowns or to be punitive for things your child can’t control. That is not what this is meant for.
If you need advice about meltdowns/outbursts take some time to read Supporting Non-Escalating Behavior – Proactively Preventing Outbursts