"Time out can be an effective discipline strategy when used effectively. Although it is important to consider your child’s developmental needs when establishing age appropriate consequences, usually time out is effective between the ages of 3 and 12. Time out can teach your child new behavior management skills when it is used properly.
The reason that time out is effective is because it removes your child from all reinforcements that may encourage misbehaviors, such as adult attention.
Time out teaches children who to manage their emotions in a positive way. It should be used as a consequence and not a punishment.
The ultimate goal is for children to eventually be able to take a time out on their own before they do something that gets them into trouble. Time out is a skill that children can use throughout their lives. Even as an adult, knowing how to step away when you're feeling overwhelmed by an emotion can come in very handy.
Establish an Effective Time Out Area
Establish a time out area that will be free of distractions and can provide your child with an opportunity to calm down. For small children who are not likely to be able to sit still, a time out room may be the best option. For older children, a chair or steps may be used.
Children should not have access to any attention from others. They should also not have any distractions, such as a television or any electronics.
Instead, it is important for them to wait quietly in the time out area.
Identify Behaviors that Lead to Time Out
One factor that is important to making time out an effective discipline strategy is to clearly determine which behaviors will lead to time out. Time out should be used for behaviors where children are defiant or are having difficulty regulating their emotions.
Some behaviors may require a warning before being given a time out. Try an if…then statement such as, “If you keep banging those together, then you will have to go to time out.” Other behaviors, such as hitting, should lead to an immediate time out with a warning.
Determine Time Out Length
The length of time out should depend on your child’s age. A good rule is for one minute of time out for each year of age. For example, a four year old requires a four minute time out while a seven year old requires a seven minute time out.
Also, don’t start time out until your child is quiet. If your child yells, screams, or cries loudly, ignore these behaviors. Once your child is quiet, the time starts.
Plan for Resistance
Children will often resist time out. Sometimes they refuse to go to time out. Other times they refuse to stay in time out.
Plan in advance for how to handle resistance. It is best to use time out as a first line of defense. If the child is unable to successfully complete time out, take away a privilege for 24 hours.
This will encourage children to go to time out in the future.
For example, if a child resists going to child out when told, say, “If you don’t go to time out right now, you will lose your computer privileges for the day.” If the child continues to refuse, take away the option of time out and take away the privilege.
Practice Your Skills
Although time out is an effective consequence, it requires some practice. You may need to try it a few times to determine which time out area will work best or how to respond to resistance. It is also important to remember that time out is one of many tools that can be offered as a negative consequence but there are other important parenting tools that can help with behavior management."
By Amy Morin, LCSW
Updated August 12, 2016