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How and When to Give a Proper Time Out

Updated on February 16, 2013
Time out!
Time out! | Source

"Uh-oh! Johhny's at it again--pulling the cat's tail."

"Carly, how many times do I have to tell you not to push your brother?"

"Theo, why are you tearing the pages out of those books?"

"Honey, Debbie is tantruming again because I won't take her to the toy store."

Daily scenarios in a normal household, and yet how many of us simply yell or spank our child or maybe even ignore the behavior, hoping that it will stop on it's own, while we, on the other hand, go crazy or lose our patience?

Not to worry! There is a simple technique used to aid parents in teaching their children to stop a certain bad or undesirable behavior. The time out. But if used inappropriately, the time out can become ineffective, and you as a parent will be left right where you were in the beginning...wondering what you should do. Therefore, follow these guidelines when administering a time out:

Recognize Behaviors that Need Stopped Vs. Started

There are two different types of complaints that parents give about their children. (1) I can't get them to stop this behavior. (2) I can't get them to start this behavior. It is with the behaviors that need stopped that a time out can be used. Here are some examples of each type of behavior.

Stop: Tantruming, hitting, swearing, torturing the pets, lying

Start: Doing chores, saying "please", eating their food, getting dressed, cleaning up their room

In essence, time outs should not be used when your child needs to begin doing something because the time out would allow the child to do exactly what he or she was trying to accomplish--to avoid the undesirable activity or chore that you have asked them to do. For instance, if you put Caleb in time out because he refused to make his bed, he is only continuing to avoid making his bed as he sits in time out.

Teach the Child

Before implementing any time out, ask yourself, "Have I taught the child before now to not do this activity?" Or "Do they know that this is wrong to do?" Answer these questions honestly before moving on with a time out. If the child has never been taught that the behavior is wrong, they should not be punished for it.

For instance, if you find your toddler Kaylee putting handprints on the wall with finger paints, don't immediately put her in time out. Ask yourself, "Have I specifically taught Kaylee that she's not allowed to paint on the wall?" If the answer is no, take the time to gently redirect her ("Kaylee, we don't paint on the walls") and teach her that using finger paint on the wall is not okay. When she gets older, you can teach her more about when it is appropriate to paint the walls (i.e. when they are remodeling the house, when an adult is present, and when the child is verbally told it is okay to paint). Then be sure to either remove the finger paints from the vicinity or provide an alternative activity such as painting on construction paper or cardboard. Make it even more exciting by adding other crafty materials like stickers or sit down and paint with the child as a reward for being redirected easily to another activity.

However, if the child has been taught that a certain behavior is wrong once, you may proceed with a time out.

The Time Out

1) Tell the child calmly but firmly why they are going into time out while taking the child by the hand.

2) Lead the child to the designated "time out spot." This could be a chair, a corner, or the steps. Make this spot somewhere where the child wouldn't necessarily want to hang out. For instance, it should be a spot where you can still see them but where they can't see or hear the TV or be entertained in any way.

3) Set a timer. It could be a kitchen timer or the timer on a cell phone. Just make sure the timer has a loud beep that sounds at the end of the time. Set the timer for both the child to know when his time is up and for you so that you don't forget how long your child has been in time out. Put the timer in a place where you can see it. Don't allow the child to see it, as many children attempt to perseverate on how much time they have left. A good guideline to follow is to set the timer for a minute for each year of their age. (Ex: five-year-old = five minutes, three-year-old = three minutes, etc.)

4) Talk with the child about what they did and how they will do better next time. When the timer beeps, don't just simply let the child get up and leave. Sit down at the child's level and ask them why they are in time out. When they answer correctly, ask them what they will do next time that would be a better choice. (Young children may need some gentle prompts to answer this question.) If they need to say "sorry" to someone, have them do it now. Or, if needed, you can even role play the situation out with the child, practicing the "better choice" that they decided on.

5) Repair the relationship. Give the child a hug, a high five, or some sign that you still love them. Make sure that the child knows that you didn't like the bad behavior but that you still like them.

Rules of Time Out

1) Do not talk to your child while they are in time out. If they talk to you, pretend like you didn't hear them. Many times, children misbehave to receive attention, so you should withhold all attention while they are in time out.

2) Do not let the child leave time out for any reason. Every child tries to use the excuse, "I have to go to bathroom." So be prepared. Simply tell them they can go when their time is up.

3) Don't bargain with the child! Don't give in to threats! Be consistent every time! You are the parent, and the child is required to listen to you; not the other way around.

What If...

The child screams, hits, destroys something, etc. while in time out. Walk to the timer and calmly tell the child that the timer is being reset and will not restart until they are quiet. Once they are sitting quietly, start the timer from the beginning time once again. (Note: the first time a time out is implemented, the child may need the timer restarted several times. Be prepared--they could be in time out for more than an hour. It may seem like a sacrifice, but it is worth it. And don't worry. The time will decrease every time that the time out is implemented consistently.)

The child refuses to go to time out or keeps leaving time out. Without appearing frantic or frazzled yourself, follow the child, take them by their hand, and lead them back to the time out spot. Each time they leave (and it may be quite a few times for the first time out), simply follow them and lead them back. In certain cases, you may need to pick up the child. Be careful not to pick them up by their arms as their shoulders can pop out of place. If you are getting worn out, and the child is simply scooting his/her way out of time out, tell them that the timer does not start until they are in the spot. Make it look like you don't care how long it takes for them to get into the spot. If they leave, follow them and take them back to the spot. Don't just let them stay in the spot where they are trying to avoid the time out! Take it as a good sign that they are running from the time out. That means that they don't like it and will try to avoid receiving it in the future. If they continue to run away, and you don't feel like you can follow them anymore, put them in a smaller area. For instance, you could put them in a corner of the bathroom while you sit in the doorway. Note: they may try to escape the bathroom. Simply use your body as a blockade.

The child is playing in the time out spot. If the child is playing, walk over to the child and, without saying anything, move the child to another spot where playing will not occur (i.e. a corner with no coats, shoes, or anything to play with.) Move the child to another location if the second one still remains to have items that the child will play with. Or you can simply restart the timer if playing occurs.

Although the time out can often be a challenge the first few times it is used, I can promise that the behavior of the child will improve dramatically as you teach them what is appropriate and inappropriate by giving them consistent time outs.

Good luck! And enjoy the time out from insanity that you'll be receiving as well!


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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Great hub on time out. I tried many types of time out but my son refused to go to the timeout spot. So, I give him a warning and tell him to think about his mistakes. After 30min, he realized his mistakes and would come near me, apoligize and ask for a hug. If my current method doesn't work, i might as well try yours. Voted useful