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The Effective Use of Time-Out

By Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D.
Copyrighted 2000

In reality, a family only needs to teach children the following three rules:

  • 1. Respect yourself and others.
  • 2. Use cooperation and obedience with parents.
  • 3. No destruction of property.

Almost every form of misbehavior will fall under these three rules. When children choose to disobey any of these rules, time-out is appropriate. Time-out allows children to relax and gain control over their behaviors. Time-out also prevents child abuse. Below are seven helpful guidelines to increase the effectiveness of timeout.

1. Use a bathroom (or a quiet place in the house) as the time-out place. Bedrooms or a specific corner can even be places for time-out. It is best to use the same place as much as possible.

2. Use a timer. The timer takes the child's focus off of you and onto a relaxing clicking noise. It will also save you from having to remember that your child is in time-out. You may have to keep the timer out of reach so the child does not play with it.

3. Allow children to use time-out as a thinking experience. Tell them to think about what they did and what they can do different next time. Have them give you a report on what they thought about when the timer goes off.

4. The length of time in time-out varies from child to child. A rule of thumb is 5 minutes for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Other children can go longer. You may wish to use longer time-outs for major offenses.

5. Children new to time-out may want to leave the bathroom, walk around in the bathroom, argue, or be destructive. If this happens, just tell them that their time starts when they are doing what they are supposed to. Make sure the children understand that they are responsible if anything in the time-out area gets damaged or destroyed. Some children new to time-out will need to be carried to the place repeatedly and/or the door may need to be held shut. If you are consistent with time-out, your child will eventually learn to go on their own and sit quietly for five minutes.

6. Time-out usually works. At first your child may have difficulty adjusting to the program, but if you are consistent your child will learn. It is rare that a child will go for two weeks without learning how to behave appropriately in time-out, if the parent is consistent.

7. Always communicate love for your child. You love your children regardless of their behavior. As your children give you a good report at the end of time-out, give them a big hug or some other form of affection. Remember... seldom do you "need" to yell at your children. Try to use a calm voice when sending your children to time-out.

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