Sheena L. Carter, Ph.D.

Time-out works best when it prevents the child from being rewarded for misbehavior.   It is not expected to work for crying unless the child is crying for attention.   For tantrums, it is best to just walk away and ignore the child until the child begins to calm.  Time-out will not work as punishment if the child gets what he or she wants anyway.

  • Try to remain unemotional when you use time-out. Keep a blank face and an expressionless voice.
  • Use time-out for a particular behavior that you are sure the child knows is wrong.
  • Choose an empty, uninteresting place for time-out. (Make sure there are no toys or other objects there to interest the child.) An empty corner, or even a blank wall can work even if you are away from home.
  • Do not try to keep a very young child in time-out for any particular time. Simply place the child in the time-out space and turn your back or walk away. Tell the child that when he or she can obey the rule (state clearly what is), he or she can come out of time-out. When the child comes out, assume he or she is ready to "be nice," and return the child to time out if the misbehavior is repeated. Return the child as many times as necessary -- but only for repeating the SAME misbehavior. BE PATIENT. Do not let the child see that you are annoyed by having to do this repeatedly. Give the child plenty of praise and attention for returning from time-out ready to behave well.
  • For a very young child or a child with language problems, simply say "no," as you stop the misbehavior and place the child in time-out.
  • As children get older, you can require them to stay in time-out for a set length of time. One minute for each year of age is a good rule of thumb (e.g., 3 minutes for a 3-year-old, 4 minutes for a 4-year-old, etc.)
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© 1998, 2001 Copyright Sheena L. Carter, Ph.D.