USING TIME-OUT FOR BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
(For Children from 2-10 years of age)
Definition: Time-out involves placing your child on a chair
for a short period of time following misbehavior. The idea
is to remove the child from positive reinforcement and all
activities. Time-out has been found to work better than
spanking, yelling, or threatening children when they
Misbehavior: All children occasionally misbehave and
effective discipline by adults is critically needed.
Misbehaviors that could be especially corrected by time-out
are tantrums, not following directions, hitting, biting, and
leaving the yard without permission. Time-out works best for
children who disobey or are aggressive rather than withdrawn
1. Buy a small portable kitchen timer.
2. Select a dull place for the time-out chair (not the
child's bedroom or near T.V., toys, etc.).
3. Both parents should agree which behaviors will result
in time-out (consistency is important).
4. Practice time-out with your child during a pleasant
time before beginning to use it. (Tell your child you
will be using time-out instead of spanking and
Rules: (Make sure the child understands these)
1. The timer is started when the child is quietly sitting
(teach child not to argue).
2. If the child gets off the chair before the timer
rings, you will give one hard spank and replace him on
3. No one is to talk to the child or look at him while he
is on the time-out chair. (All family members are to
follow this rule!)
4. Set the timer according to the child's age. For
example, 3 years old, 3 minutes, and a 5 year old, 5
minutes. For children older than 5 years, 5 minutes
is the maximum amount of time.
5. No one is to touch the timer except parents.
6. If brothers or sisters tease, laugh, or talk to the
child while in time-out, they will also be given time-
7. Parents should remain calm when carrying this out.
Step 1: When the child misbehaves, tell them what they did
wrong. For example, "You hit your sister. No to time-out
please." Say this calmly and only once. It is important not
to lose your temper or begin nagging. If your child has
problems getting to the chair quickly, guide him with as
little effort as needed. This can range from leading the
child part way by the hand to carrying the child to the
Step 2: When your child is on the chair and quiet, set the
timer for a specific number of minutes according to his age
up to 5 minutes. Do this each time the child makes any
Step 3: After your child has been quiet and seated for the
required amount of time, the timer will ring. Go to the
time-out chair and ask your child if he would like to get up.
A nod of the head or a positive or neutral answer is
required. Should your child answer in an angry tone or
refuse to answer, reset the timer. Your child may then
answer appropriately, but once the timer is reset, it must go
the full amount of time. You are the one who should decide
when your child gets off the time-out chair, not your child.
Step 4: As soon as your child is off the time-out chair, you
should ask if he wishes to repeat the behavior which led him
there in the first place. Generally, children say no or
shake their head. You can then say, "I'm happy you don't
want to hit your sister." If your child should take you up
on this offer and repeat the unacceptable behavior, calmly
place him in time-out. Although this may sound like you are
daring your child to misbehave, it is better if he repeats
the behavior in your presence. That way, your child will
have several opportunities to learn that unacceptable
behaviors result in time-out.
Step 5: After your child finishes a time-out period, he
should start with a "clean slate." It is not necessary to
discuss, remind or nag about what the child did wrong.
Within five minutes after time-out, look for and praise good
behavior. It would be wise to take your child to a different
part of the house and start him in a new activity. Remember,
catch 'em being good.
THINGS TO CHECK WHEN TIME-OUT DOES NOT WORK
1. In order for time-out to work, you must make the rest of
the day ("Time-in") pleasant for your child. Remember
to let your child know when he or she is well-behaved
("Catch 'em being good") rather than taking good
behavior for granted. Most children would prefer to
have you put them in time-out than ignore them
2. Television, radio, or a nice view out the window can
make time-out more tolerable. Try to minimize such
3. When your child is in time-out: Don't look at him or
her; Don't talk about them; Don't act angry; Don't stay
in the room if possible.
4. Be sure you are not warning your child one (or more)
times before sending him or her to the time-out chair.
Warnings only teach your child that he or she can
misbehave at least once (or more) before you'll use
time-out. Warnings only make things worse, not better.
5. Your child may say "going to the chair doesn't bother
me," or "I like time-out." Don't fall for this trick.
Many children try to convince their parents that time-
out is fun and, therefore, not working. You should
notice over time that the problem behaviors for which
you use time-out occur less often. (Time-out is not
supposed to be a miserable experience.)
6. Be certain that your child is aware of the rules, that
if broken, result in time-out. Frequently, parents will
establish a new rule (e.g., "Don't touch the new
stereo") without telling their children. When their
children break the rule they don't understand why they
are being put in time-out.
7. Review the time-out guidelines to make certain you are
following the recommendations. If your child is getting
off the chair frequently, be sure to give one swat on
the bottom and place your child back on the chair
8. You may feel the need to punish your child for doing
something inappropriate in the chair (such as cursing or
spitting). However, it is very important to ignore your
child when he or she behaves badly in time-out. This
will teach your child that such "attention-getting"
behaviors will not work. If your child curses when out
of the chair (and it bothers you), be sure to put the
child in time-out.
9. All adults who are responsible for disciplining your
child at home should be using the time-out chair. You should
agree when and for what behaviors to send your child to time-
out. (You will want new sitters, visiting friends and
relatives to read and discuss the time-out guidelines.)
10. When you first begin using time-out, your child may act
like time-out is a "game." He or she may put himself or
herself in time-out or ask to go to time-out. If this
happens, give your child what he or she wants - that is, put
him or her in time-out and require your child to sit quietly
for the required amount of time. Your child will soon learn
that time-out is not a game.
11. You must use time-out for major as well as minor
behavioral problems. Parents tend to feel that time-out is
not enough of a punishment for big things and thereby
discipline inconsistently. consistency is most important for
time-out to work for big and small problems.