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The Time Out Method of Toddler Discipline

Updated on March 29, 2013

Sometime toddlers misbehave. If your little one does something really naughty, like hitting another child, one tactic is 'time out'.

Time out is a technique of discipline which involves taking a child out of a situation for a short time after they have misbehaved in some way.

It is similar to a time out in sport after a penalty. In sport, the referee doesn't get angry. Instead, he calmly directs a player to the penalty area. The player is then not allowed to play. They have to watch for a short period. Time out for your toddler means taking your little one aside after they have done something wrong and making them sit down for a short time.

How to Use Time Out

Don't use time out in anger. Time out is for meant to be for cooling down hot-tempered little boys and girls. It should not be a punishment delivered by an angry parent. Don't yell at your child. You should calmly say to them, 'time out' like a sporting referee calmly blowing a whistle and pointing to the penalty area.

Choose an appropriate place. Your child should be moved away from distracting toys or TV. They should be in a quiet and safe place. Make sure there are no dangerous table corners or breakable objects nearby. Choose a spot where you can see what your child is doing.

Don't have a time out chair. Some people use the term naughty chair, but it is probably not a good idea to have a chair in a corner which your child will always know as the place they go when they misbehave. Similarly, you shouldn't send them to their bedroom because that should be a safe place for them not a room they associate with punishment.

Say nothing during time out. It's important that you interact as little as possible. Your toddler may get angry and frustrated, but you should stay quiet. Be sure that your little one doesn't harm themselves or damage anything around them, but otherwise don't react to their tantrums. Time out is for them to cool down by themselves without your interference.

Don't make it too long. 30 seconds to a minute will probably be enough. Time goes slowly for toddlers. Some say that time out should last for a minute for each year of your child's age. But this calculation should provide you with a maximum time though. If your little one can calm down and join the family sooner than that, then so much the better.

Make sure your toddler is quiet before they leave time out. When time is up, ask your child if they are ready to get up. If they say no or they are still angry, they may need some more time. Time out is meant to cool them down, so they can resume normal family life.

Don't say too much afterwards. You might reassure you toddler that you love them, but don't lecture them. You don't want to remind them why they were in such a state in the first place. Aim to get your child back into social life as quickly as possible.

Don't use time out too often. Time out shouldn't be your first reaction whenever your child does something wrong. Try other things first. Don't use it for behaviour which you have never previously explained was inappropriate.

Should I Use Time Out?

The technique has its critics. Some say using 'time out' is too harsh. Often a child might not understand why they are being punished. Some child care experts say that time out should also be accompanied by time-ins. If bad behaviour is being highlighted by time outs, then good behaviour should be praised.

If the child is very young, time out is unlikely to be suitable. It is probably best to only use it with children of at least two-years of age. Neither should it be used above the age of six. Older than that, children are likely to spend their cooling-off period planning revenge against their parents for doing something so mean as taking them away from their fun. At that age, it is perhaps better to temporarily take away a privilege, such as TV, instead.

Time out continues a popular method for dealing with troublesome toddlers and it can be an effective one. Sometimes other discipline techniques, for example distraction, might be more appropriate. Time out is one method of discipline, but parents should use a variety of tactics.


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    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 4 years ago from Victoria BC

      Time out can be helpful for some children and not so much for others. I like the way you have explained the method and suggest it as one tool in the parenting toolbox for how to manage things. Voted up.