Time-out is a discipline technique that involves placing children in an unstimulating place for one of several reasons.
1. If children ignore or go against a parent’s instructions/directions. Parents should only warn children once that if they do not do what the parents have asked that they will be placed in time-out.
2. If children behave in a way they have been told is unacceptable and/or rules are broken such as throwing tantrums or being aggressive.
3. If children do something that is dangerous or potentially dangerous to their safety such as playing with matches, and they need to made aware that the behaviour should never be repeated. For younger children this is a way of protecting them, and for older children who may be aware of the danger, using time-out confirms that the action falls into the category of unacceptable behaviour.
Time-out is a popular discipline method among parents and parenting experts alike because it works well for children of various ages (approximately between 18 months and 10 years of age) as a way of managing a variety of stressful situations where children misbehave without parents having to resort to physical punishment, bribery, grounding or revoking privileges.
This is because:
- It allows children time to calm down and reflect on what they have done
- It teaches children that they will not be given attention for negative behaviour.
- Younger children will see it as a break in their activity or play, and a restriction on their much-wanted independence.
- Older children are inclined to see it as a technique for younger children and will behave better to try and avoid being disciplined in such a “babyish” way, especially if they have peers or siblings to witness it.
- It has an immediate effect rather than grounding or taking away toys where the child may not learn the lesson until a while after the behaviour has occurred.
- It enables other forms of punishment to be used as a reserve for even worse behaviour if needed.
Using time out before 18 months of age is unlikely to be successful because children are too young to understand why they are being disciplined. Intervening and diversion techniques are better for younger children. When parents first start using time out, it is best to use it to eliminate specific types of behaviour that are causing problems, before moving on to using it as a general discipline technique.
Suitable places for time out include a place away from toys, people, TV’s and windows such as:
- An empty or spare room
- Hallway or a chair placed in a corner or alcove, where the child is within eye contact
The room must not be dark, locked or too confined (such as a wardrobe). The point is not to scare children but to put them in a space where they can think about what has happened without being distracted.
Tips for using time-out successfully:
- When beginning a time out, parents must explain to the child the reason why he or she is being placed in time out (“Because you hit your sister” for example) and what he or she needs to do (“Sit quietly until the time out is over”) in a calm but authoritative manner before taking him or her to the time out place and setting the timer. Then they should leave the child and not speak to or interact with him or her in any way before the time-out is over.
- Any protests from children should be ignored by everyone (parents and siblings) until the time-out is over. Parents should busy themselves while in time out, rather than standing around and waiting or watching the child (as this is a form of attention).
- Lengths of time-outs are usually recommended as being one minute for each year of a child’s age. After a time-out period is over parents should go to the child and ask him or her to confirm why they were placed in time-out and apologise for what he or she did. If the child refuses, he or she must be left in time-out until they do so. Children don’t think logically until about age 5 or 6 so younger children will only need to be in time-out for a short time and will also need an explanation and a follow up reminder about why the time out has occurred. Older children may need the extra minutes to process why they are there and realise what they have done so they can apologise sincerely.
- Younger children will need to experience what happens if they do not do a time-out properly (eg: if they talk while in time out, or stand up before the time out is over) before they fully understand. This means if a child does speak or get up and leave while in time-out, the timer must be reset and the time-out period must start again, as many times as necessary until the child completes a full time-out.
- Once a time-out period concludes, parents should immediately re-establish communication and praise any good behaviour to show the child that time-out is a consequence for bad behaviour only.
Time-out can be used to discipline outside the home in the same way by locating an empty chair or step when at the supermarket, park or at other people’s homes but children should not be left unattended in public places for any time. Consistency is crucial in the success of time-outs for kids and so time-out ideally should be used for all behaviour that falls into one of the three behaviour categories, regardless of where it takes place.