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Behavior, Parenting and Discipline > Time Out

Time Out

Learn the procedures below, teach the procedures to all caregivers, and practice with your child before beginning to enforce time outs.


Patience is most important when re-directing behaviors. Yelling only fuels the fire and makes the kids yell back. Too much talking also backfires. Keep instructions short and to the point. Don't harp on bad behaviors. After the time out, resume normal activities.

DO give POSITIVE feedback often! When a child does a good thing or makes a good decision, be sure to smile, hug, say "good job" or "way to go". Kids love to get noticed and love attention. Give it for good behavior and the child is rewarded and will strive for those rewards again!


Be consistent with giving time out for all the bad behaviors you are trying to change, or the child will feel like he's getting away with it sometimes and will push the limits as much as possible. (Kids are smart and learn that if a parent is in public he won't punish if time outs aren't enforced at the store, the park, etc.) Remember to be consistent with all providers, all behaviors and in all situations. Don't make excuses for the child (he's hungry/tired, it's the other kid's fault). If you give in once, the child will try for more leeway! It works best when both parents are consistent and if child care/school can participate.

The location of time out can vary depending on where the behavior occurred, but do not put the child where he/she can see television or do anything fun. It can be as simple as moving the chair away from the dinner table. The child can see the rest of the family enjoying dinner, but is completely ignored. This is very hard for the child, but very effective. When time out is complete, the child can re-join the dinner as if nothing happened, but will remember the isolation of time out. It works well if they can see the fun going on but can't participate. Isolating to a bedroom loses some of this benefit, because they can't see others having fun.

At the beginning, you may have to physically place your child in time out. You can pick them up from the back (not too much physical contact ... no "hugs"). This may happen several times in one event if the child keeps running away. Don't set the timer until he/she sits quietly. You also can help him get to time out with hand-holding or gently guiding from the back. Once children are pros at time out, just naming the place and telling them "time out for hitting, sit on that chair" is sufficient.

When placing child in time out, use brief directions, such as "time out for yelling". Be sure to tell why the time out is happening, but keep it simple. The more you explain, the less effective it becomes.

Put your time out clock in view of the child, but out of reach. Practice with 10-15 seconds. For real time out, use one minute per year age.

Re-set the timer each time your child cries, gets up or tries to stop the timer early. Do not look at or talk to your child at this time.

Rules and Expectations

Children need to know what to expect, so practicing is important. Review sessions might be needed if the child has trouble staying in time out. All practices should be at a time when the child is being good! Remember that the practice is for the parents too!

The child must be quiet before the timer will start. The child must stay in time out until the timer goes off. If the child leaves early, the timer will be re-set. If the child cries or tries to get attention, the timer will be re-set. This will happen as many times as needed until time out is complete.

Rules for adult: As an adult you must remain calm, don't yell, keep directions short, limit physical contact, limit eye contact, except when naming the time out, don't keep talking about the event, be consistent with all behaviors and situations (give a time out even when you are late for work - it will pay back in the end!).

Discuss desired behaviors and behaviors that will earn a time out (hitting, yelling, etc.) during your "practice" sessions.

Expect that behavior will worsen before it gets better. Plan on getting to work late. Attempt to start bedtime routines a little early, because time outs will extend the total time. When children know that parents are trying to affect their behavior, they will resist and act out even more. After a time they learn that parents are winning and they (often abruptly) begin to behave. If parents don't continue to discipline, the undesired behaviors resurface, so you must persist on time outs for bad behaviors when they do occur (they catch you by surprise after the child is usually good!).

After time out, simply say, "you are out of time out" and continue your activities. DO NOT continue to scold. DO NOT give a hug or congratulate on finishing time out.

After time out is complete, the crime has been punished. Leave it. Do not re-live the past. Do not keep "reminding" the child what he/she did wrong. They will learn best if they figure it out on their own. The consequence already happened, you do not need to explain it to your child. Trust that your child is smart enough to "get it". It may take reinforcement with the next behavior, but do not harp or nag about the behaviors. (This is most difficult, but most important!)

After you tell the child to go to time out, direct where you want them to go. If the child refuses after 30 seconds, put the child there. Be quiet during the 30 seconds, don't yell, don't give the instructions again.


Siblings who are old enough need to know to ignore children in time out.

Resist any contact with the child in time out (no talking to child, avoid looking at child - other than discretely to be sure he/she is in time out). You may continue to do what you were doing before: Talking with others in room, dishes, etc. Quietly remind others that the child is in time out and cannot play/talk.

Behavior worsens when children (and adults) are tired, sick, hungry, or out of normal routines. Try to ensure regular routines, adequate sleep, healthy meals, and let children know if their routine will be different in advance. But don't use these as excuses for bad behavior! Schools, law enforcement, friends, etc. don't care if you "were just tired" and couldn't help yourself.

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