"Time out" is a technique some parents and teachers use when a child misbehaves. It involves the child leaving the environment and activities where the inappropriate behavior occurred, and going to a specific place for a set amount of time. During time out, the child is expected to be quiet and think about their behavior.
Time out is an effective disciplinary technique that does not use physical punishment. Professionals report that NOT physically punishing children may help them learn that physical violence or inflicting physical pain does NOT bring desired results.
Children learn to avoid time out by stopping the behaviors that have caused time outs, or warnings of time outs, in the past.
HOW TO USE TIME OUT
Find a place in your home that will be suitable for time out. A chair in the hallway or a corner will work. It should be a place that is not too closed-off, dark, or scary. It should also be a place that has no potential for fun, such as in front of a TV or in a play area.
- Get a timer that makes a loud noise, and establish the amount of time to be spent in time out. It is generally recommended to do 1 minute per year of age, but no more than 5 minutes.
- Once your child shows bad behavior, explain clearly what the unacceptable behavior is, and tell your child to stop it. Warn them what will happen if they don't stop the behavior -- sitting in the chair for a time out. Be ready with praise if your child stops the behavior.
- If the behavior does not stop, tell your child to go to time out. Tell them why -- make sure they understand the rules. Only say it once, and do not lose your temper. By yelling and nagging, you are giving your child (and the behavior) too much attention. You may guide your child to the time out spot with as much physical force as necessary (even picking your child up and placing them in the chair). Never spank or physically hurt your child. If your child will not stay in the chair, hold them from behind. Do not speak, as this is giving them attention.
- Set the timer. If your child makes noise or misbehaves, reset the timer. If they get off the time-out chair, lead them back to the chair and reset the timer. The child must be quiet and well-behaved until the timer goes off.
- After the timer rings, your child may get up and resume activities. Do not hold a grudge -- let the issue go. Since your child has done the time out, there is no need to continue to discuss the bad behavior.
Carter RG, Feigelman S. The preschool years. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 24.
Walter HJ, DeMaso DR. Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 42.
Review Date 7/1/2023
Updated by: Charles I. Schwartz, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, General Pediatrician at PennCare for Kids, Phoenixville, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.