Secrets for Making Timeout Work

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.
One comment

“Do you want to go to timeout?” the mother asked her three year old son as he threw his toys around the room.

“If you don’t stop this at once, that is where I am going to put you,” continued the mother which had no apparent effect on her son’s behavior.

“This is the last time I am going to warn you, then into timeout you go,” the mother went on.

The mother is demonstrating one of the more common errors parents make when using the disciplinary technique of timeout. Repeated warnings of putting a child in timeout and yet never following through on the warning makes it less effective.

Parents need to follow through on their warnings, every time. Each time a parent fails to act on a warning to discipline a child makes it less likely that the child will respond to the next warning. This is called resistance and once a child becomes resistant to parent warnings, parents will have a very difficult time making a child behave appropriately.

Keeping this in mind, parents should think on whether they will be able to do a timeout in their current setting. For example, will parents be willing to use it in Walmart if the child is being unruly? If they are not willing to, they need to think of another method to stop a child’s misbehavior. Otherwise, children will learn to disregard parental warnings when they are in particular settings.

A good warning strategy to use with a child is to count to three and then put the child in timeout if he continues to misbehave. Counting to three should be done with the same amount of time between each number. In other words, parents should not stretch out the count as they get closer to three.

Once three is reached, parents need to follow through on their warning and put the parent needs to act. This should be done by putting the child in a specific area away from the activity the child was engaging in. Many times this is in the corner of a particular room in the house. The child needs to stay in this area until the timeout is over.

A rule of thumb is to put a child in timeout for one minute for every year of age of the child. For example, the three year old would be in timeout for three minutes. It can help to set a timer so a child will know how much longer he will need to be in timeout.

While a child is in timeout, parents need to resist trying to talk or reason with the child. The technique is meant to remove a child from a situation and allow him to calm himself down. Continuing to interact with a child during timeout interferes with that goal.

Once a child’s time has been completed, the parent needs to let the child know why he was put into timeout. This allows the child to start linking his behaviors to negative consequences which helps him to develop more control over his behaviors.

This disciplinary technique will take time to be effective. Parents should not get discouraged if their three-year old seems to be frequently in timeout. Over time, the frequency will lessen and the child’s behavior will improve.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on July 15, 2016

One comment

  1. Time out refers to timeout from reinforcement and as you said, threats should not be used. You just do it. And while they are in time out…no coloring, no technology, to TV, no enjoyable activity.

    Comment by Sarah Jane DeHaas, PhD on August 28, 2016 at 3:02 pm

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