Ten Absolute Timeout Musts

Have a young child? Chances are you’ve used timeouts. Timeouts have been considered very effective and one of the few strategies recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP).  However, timeouts only work when used properly-something most parents are failing to do! Important Note: while timeouts are still the standard method for many families, many specialists are encouraging a variety of successful alternatives.  This article concentrates on the correct and effective timeout methods, as well as links and additional articles to successful alternatives.

While three out of four parents use timeout to discipline, almost 85 percent (84.9%) make at least one major mistake.


The Most Common Mistakes:

  • Speaking to a child during timeout
  • Offering multiple warnings before placing a child in timeout
  • Threatening a timeout but not following through
  • Not following up timeout with a positive interaction
  • Recognizing not all children respond well to timeouts
  • Putting more work into timeout than the child (example: repeatedly returning an escapee back to timeout)

Unfortunately, these are just a handful of mistakes used by moms and dads. Search the internet and you’ll find plenty of timeout tips. According to the National Institutes of Health, many of these articles aren’t sending you in the right direction.




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Effective Timeouts Require the Following:

An Overall Positive Environment

Children are attention-seekers. If they don’t get enough positive attention, negative attention becomes just as valuable. Timeouts work by removing attention–both positive and negative. Timeouts teach children that unwanted behavior leads to removal, something most kids don’t want.  For timeouts to work, children need to have an overall positive environment. This makes it easier for children to notice when positive attention is removed. A positive environment also helps children feel secure during the confinement of timeout.  If your child is not in a stable environment at this time, an alternative to timeouts might be best for now. (If this is the case and you need support related to a more supportive environment, reach out to Susan for local resources (many are low-cost, even free). In addition, it’s important to note you must be very cautious about the emotional limitations of your child. Sensitive children will respond much better to alternative methods of discipline.

One Warning

One single warning is all that is needed before sending your kid to timeout. This single warning quickly teaches her to choose wisely or prepare for a consequence.
“Maria, give Lilah her doll back or you will go in a timeout.”

Consistent Follow-Through

If Maria refuses to give Lilah the doll back put her in timeout immediately. Without this follow-through, Maria will learn that she may be able to get away with bad behavior.

A Simple Reminder of Why Your Child is Heading to Timeout

One final note before timeout begins helps your child connect the unwanted behavior to the consequence. The shorter the reminder, the better. “Maria, Lilah’s doll-timeout.”  No arguments allowed. Send your child to timeout and end communication.

An Established Duration for the Timeout

Not all experts agree on how long a timeout should last. Studies show that a four to five-minute timeout is most effective, but every child is unique.  Consider your child’s age and capabilities. Four minutes is a long time for any three-year-old to sit still. For this reason, parents often add one minute of timeout per year of age.  Regardless most experts agree, a proper timeout should not end until a child has been calm for 30 seconds.

A Plan For Non-Compliance

What if your child refuses to go to timeout or has become a timeout “escape artist”? Experts emphasize: don’t give up. Some suggest returning your kiddo to timeout until they stay put. The result:  he will quickly come to realize timeout can’t be avoided. Other options include adding another consequence, such as removing a toy or privilege in addition to completing the timeout.  Most experts agree the clock resets when your child leaves timeout without permission. Note: Many specialists have stopped advocating timeout for children who repeatedly leave timeout.  First, why is the child not staying in timeout? Is it a matter of defiance? Is it a true inability to sit still?  Furthermore, it begs the question: should mom and dad be putting more “time” into the consequence than the child? If these questions resonant with you, your family is likely to benefit from a more well-rounded disciplinary approach.

Safe Confinement (From Attention)

Your child should always be placed in a safe, visible location. Monitoring her safety should be the only attention she gets during timeout, from anyone.  As noted above, timeouts are only effective when all attention is removed. No verbal communication is allowed. This may be difficult if you’re a parent who finds this painful. Again, this is a valuable sign that an alternative consequence may be a better fit. It’s also challenging if your son or daughter pulls you into an argument or conversation. Added time or consequences should be as brief, and neutral, as possible. To increase the effect, the timeout shouldn’t include any entertainment.

A Positive Ending

Once timeout is over, interact with your child immediately. Hug or kiss her and thank her for cooperating. This reinforces the return of positive attention. Do not utilize timeout if this isn’t part of the follow-up.

Final Compliance

After timeout has ended, your child should complete the initial task whenever possible. This includes returning a toy to another child, picking up left out toys, speaking politely, etc. Without this step, he may assume the timeout is worth skipping out on a task. More importantly, he won’t get the opportunity to learn how he could have handled the situation better.

Additional Praise and the Return to A Positive Environment

Once your child has completed timeout and followed up on your rules, be sure to offer plenty of honest praise. “Thank you for picking up your books. You were very careful when you put them on the shelf.”  Genuine praise encourages future positive behavior. Don’t forget to return to a supportive and positive environment.

Again, although timeout has been the gold standard of discipline for younger children, many child practitioners are leaning toward more positive versions. View any articles below, or gain access to all these excellent alternative disciplinary approaches.

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