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 the sit completely still.
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 time out 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 behaviour. 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, time out should not be your go-to for minor problem behaviours. You should deal with these behaviours with redirection, planned ignoring, using positive reinforcement , and communicating/problem solving with your child. Only when these other skills are not working should you consider time out.
But, time out is a good option for your go-to way to handle major problem behaviours. These are the behaviours that should never be ignored, such as:
- Physically aggressive behaviour
- Verbally aggressive behaviour
- Destroying belongings (theirs or others)
- Putting themselves or anyone else in harm’s way
1.Time Out Spot
You and your child should choose a time out spot together. It should be a place where you can see your child, so I recommend you do not do time out in their bedroom. It should be a place that is boring, but safe. You may use the bottom of the stairs, or a specific chair, or just a general area, like near a certain wall.
My family does time out in the dining room. One quarter of the room has a mat on the floor and my kids sit in that general area during time out time. Amazon even sells customized time out mats with your child’s name, if you wanted to set up a personalize time out area.
2. How Much Time For The Crime?
Time outs 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 time out ends. You want your child to be calmed down when they return to playing, or what ever the were doing. So you may decide, as a general rule, to set time outs 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.
I wouldn’t recommend time out ever exceeding 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 behaviour.
3. Give a Warning
Before giving a time out, give your child a warning that time out 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, because when your child isn’t listening 10 seconds can actually feel like an eternity. But, children need time to process what you are saying. They do not always process information as quickly or efficiently as we do.
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 time out 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 time out if your child hasn’t changed their behaviour. No time out tactic is 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 time out is finished.
Stay close by, but do not argue or bargain with your child. 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 time out 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 time out ends
- After the time out, return to the task and complete it as expected
Time out 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 time out they must do what is asked, and to calm down or stop a behaviour when you give a warning.
- If your child leaves the designated time out 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 decide to give them 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 time out 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.