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Time-Outs

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Dear Debi,
I have a 2 1/2-year-old who’s starting to behave badly. She throws fits and doesn't do as she’s told. I’ve tried giving her “time-outs,” but they don’t seem to work. Please help!
Evelyn, Oakland, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
  • Time-out should be used as a last resort and never as a form of punishment
  • Time-outs should last only as long as it takes a child to calm down
  • Never use time-out for infants and toddlers
  • Use positive discipline to teach appropriate behavior
  • Try to prevent unacceptable behavior from happening
Expert Advice
Ann Corwin, Ph.D
Ann Corwin, Ph.D
Parenting Consultant
Kids at a very young age don’t understand the concept of time, so the “out” in a “time-out” has to be the child’s focus. Time-outs should never last longer than it takes for the child to calm down. Telling a child how long the time-out will last has no relevance to them because they have no concept of time.

Some people are opposed to time-outs because they see them as a form of punishment. Time-outs should never be used as a form of punishment or humiliation, nor should they make children feel threatened or afraid. There should not be a special chair or area assigned for a time-out.

Whenever possible, adults should offer children positive alternatives to their actions. When a provider observes inappropriate behavior, the child should be re-taught the appropriate behavior.

Avoid using time-outs for infants and toddlers. Very young children should not be isolated, nor should they be ignored or left without proper stimulation. Infants and young toddlers who do not understand why their behavior is unacceptable should gently be directed to more acceptable behavior or activities.

Preventing unacceptable behavior is usually more effective than reacting to it. When adults create environments that respect each individual child, they set forth a message that the world is a warm, friendly learning place. Positive discipline techniques that combine caring and direction are part of this healthy environment that help prevent unacceptable behavior.

Time outs should never be a first choice in correcting a child’s behavior, but instead should be a last resort for a child who is harming another or in danger of harming himself or herself. Used infrequently and for very brief periods, time-outs may give a child the opportunity to calm down after a frustrating situation.
Child Care provider Comments
Erica
Erica
Child care provider for 8 years
I use time-outs differently, depending upon the age of the child. With little kids between the ages of one and two, I simply remove them from the situation so they can’t see the other kids. With the bigger kids, I implement time-outs by telling them to sit on the step or go to bed. It has to be something boring and un-fun. I usually enforce a time-out lasting one minute for every year of their life.
Sandra
Sandra
Child care provider for 3 years
I use time-outs when there’s a behavior that is out of control and the behavior will endanger a child -- like hitting or throwing toys. Time-outs consist of the children taking a seat against the wall, away from the activity. They sit there and get up when they feel they are ready. They’ll usually say, “Miss Sandra, I feel better.” There’s never a time restriction where I would say, “You have to sit there for 10 minutes.”
Parent Comments
David
David
Father of three children
I use time-outs with my son. I think the process of taking the child away from the situation is what really works. I’m not concerned with the length of the time-out.

We recently went up to a local seafood restaurant. I pulled him to the side because he was throwing a fit. We took a walk and he seemed to calm down. He gets emotional and it’s hard to reason with him at this age. So I wait until he is calmed down to reinforce what is expected of him.

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