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Giving Your Child a Time-out


Giving Your Child a Time-out

Amanda McLean, Ph.D.
​​Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

What behaviors call for time-out?

​​I think a good rule of thumb is, any sort of dangerous, defiant, or disruptive behaviors, but really generally, any behavior that the parent thinks is unacceptable, and that might tempt the parent to raise their voice, is probably a good behavior for time-out.

Where should time-out take place?

It's more about the condition you're creating rather than the location. You want to choose a place where you're creating a major reduction in the child's access to all attention and to preferred activities.

Generally, you want it to be a situation where the child has nothing going on, nothing fun, nothing exciting, and there's really nothing they can do about it.

Any attempts to access those resources are unsuccessful for the child.

I like to use just a corner where they don't have access to anything but they're in my visual or auditory range.

Often times, an adult sized chair is recommended so you know if a child has two feet on the floor that means that they have left time-out and you need to address that.

What if my child refuses to go to time-out?

This problem can be avoided by simply physically guiding them to time-out rather than giving them the instruction to go.

A lot of times giving that instruction sets the stage for more defiance and noncompliance. The physical guidance eliminates that concern.

What do I do or say to my child during time-out?

The cardinal rule during time-out for addressing problems, addressing misbehaviors, whether it be your child leaving the time-out location, or they're crying or screaming, is all adult responses should be nonverbal.

From the time you take your child to time-out until you indicate that time-out is over, you should say nothing.

How long should time-out last?

Exit from time-out, I would recommend, having it be dependent on the child's behavior rather than the passage of time.

Exiting from time-out and getting to leave time-out is usually a pretty rewarding and preferred activity for a kid, so it has that power to strengthen the behavior that comes before it.

It's a good idea to allow the child to leave time-out once they're exhibiting more calm and composed behaviors, so that they're learning how to self-calm and self-soothe.

At what age can a time-out be given to a child?

I would say that you could start doing this as early as, probably around 12 months of age. I have a 20-month old and she knows how to do time-out, and we do time-outs regularly.

I think you can do a modified version of time-out at a pretty young age for a child. Once they start moving around, time-out is an appropriate disciplinary strategy.​​

Giving your child a time-out can be an effective way of disciplining your child for misbehavior without raising your hand or your voice. Amanda McLean, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, offers tips and strategies for effectively giving your child a time-out.