Clinical Psychological Services
About Dr. Kidder
Member's Area
Increasing Happiness
Parenting Education
Stress Management
Articles on mental health issues
Resources & Links
Disclaimer & Copyright
Site Map



Parenting Education > Effective Use of Time Out

Effective Use of Time Out

Time out is short for time out from reinforcement. What principle of behavior modification is being used when we use time out? Extinction. Technically time out was designed to extinguish behavior. A child is placed in a neutral setting and ignored for a period of time. Admitedly the child does initially perceive time out as unpleasant so there are some characteristics of punishment involved also. But time out should not be punishing by design.

Before getting into the description and procedures for time out, I would like to point out that time out is a very effective behavior management tool if not overused. If at all possible parents should use natural and logical consequences instead of or in addition to time out. Natural consequences are allowing the child to experience the natural consequences of his or her behavior. For example, if a child refuses to eat supper, he will have to go hungry the rest of the evening. If a child uses a toy too roughly and breaks it, he no longer has the toy to play with. The parent does not run out and replace it immediately. Logical consequences are used when a child can not be expected to face the natural consequences of her behavior or a natural consequence can not be thought of. The parent then thinks of a consequence which is as closely related to the misbehavior as possible. For example, if a child runs out into the street in front of the house without looking, she will not be allowed to play in the front yard for a period of time. If the child leaves his bike out in the rain, he will not be allowed to ride it for a while. These natural and logical consequences help the child by not only punishing them, but the punishment fits the crime, and the child is more likely to learn a lesson from the experience. The child is also more likely to see the fairness of the punishment and take responsibility instead of blaming the parent for being mean.

There are times when natural and logical consequences are difficult to use. Many times natural and logical consequences are not easy to devise on the spur of the moment. A child has lost self-control and needs time to regain it. A child may be getting attention and therefore reinforcement for misbehavior. In these cases time out from reinforcement may be used instead of or in addition to natural and logical consequences.

1. Choose a target behavior (a problem behavior).

2. Define very clearly what the behavior is and discuss it with your child. Be sure you and your child understand exactly what it is and can identify when it occurs.

3. Write the behavior down on a piece of paper for children who can read, or draw a picture that will symbolize the behavior for a small child. Post this paper. Also describe the following time out procedure to your child in detail and tell him that time out will follow each and every incident of this behavior.

4. Choose a place in the house that is boring. For small children two to four years old use a straight back chair in a part of the house where you can monitor the child, yet there is little stimulation. The hallway, a corner of the living room, dining room. For older children 5 to 12 years old, use a place like the bathroom, laundry, hallway. For children who abuse the chair, have them sit on the floor.

5. Get a kitchen timer to time the time out. The timer serves several purposes. First, it reminds the child and others in the house that this child is in time out and can not talk to others and others should not talk to him. It times the time out so that the child is treated fairly and consistently. It lets the child know when he can leave time out so that there is no need for the child to ask when he can come out and no need for the parent to answer.

6. Whenever a small child exhibits the target behavior, place him in time out immediately telling him in 10 words or less why he is going to time out. For older children, command them to go to the time out chair or place using 10 words or less. It should take no longer than 10 seconds for the child to get to time out

7. Get the portable timer, set it to ring in the number of minutes corresponding to the child's age, and place it near but out of reach of the child. The child is instructed not to touch the timer.

8. Wait for the timer to ring. During this time parents and others should not talk to the child. This should be made clear to the child in the instructions; the child should be reminded of this before time out several times. Do not pay attention to your child except to monitor that he does not get up out of the chair, leave time out, play with anything, or misbehave in other ways to get into trouble. Try to watch the child out of the corner of your eye or intermittently and only briefly gazing in his direction. While in time out, the child is not allowed to play with anything, listen to music, radio, stereo, tv, read, etc. Remember, this is a time out from anything that remotely resembles a reinforcing activity.

9. When the timer rings, the child may come out of time out on his own if he/ she is quiet. If not, the child should be told that he must be quiet 30 seconds before coming out of time out. The child should then be asked why he was put in time out. This should not involve a long lecture or discussion, merely a simple statement of what he did to deserve time out. Don't ask for an apology or ask for a promise that he will never engage in the target behavior again.

10. While in time out the child should not be allowed to go to the bathroom. Children can control their bladder for this short time.


Talking or arguing with child before, during, or after time out.

Using a small child's chair, rocking chair, or couch.

Using the child's bedroom for time out.

Keeping track of the time yourself or using a timer on the stove.

Threatening to use time out instead of using it.

Trying to shame or frighten child with time out.

Using very long, very short, or different periods of time for time out.

Not restricting activities in time out.


1. Delaying or refusing to go to time out.
Carry small child to time out. For older children, warn them that for every 10 seconds longer it takes to get to time out, they will have to stay 1 minute longer. After adding five minutes, warn them that after 10 more seconds, they will lose a privilege. Another approach is to begin taking away privileges as soon as the child refuses to go to time out. When the child refuses to go to time out, give him/her a warning and count to three. If he does not comply, take away a privilege for a short period of time. (For a child who watches a lot of TV, one day of no TV may be enough. For a child who rides his bike once per week, one day would not be enough, maybe one or two weeks.) If the child still does not comply, take away another privilege for a short period of time. Take up to three privileges away and then stop taking away privileges. At this point the child is probably not going to comply no matter how many privileges you take away. Then put the child on what I call shut down. The child can not play with any of his favorite toys, games, or go outside or play with friends or siblings. You will not talk to the child except to remind him/her that he must serve time out before you will talk with him.

2. Making noise in time out.
Try ignoring the noise, and it will usually gradually decrease. Allow the the noise until the time is up. Then remind the child that he/she must be quiet 30 seconds before getting out of time out.

3. Escaping the time out chair.
Try carrying small children back to the chair and sternly ordering them to stay, holding hand on shoulder, or holding child in chair. Spanking may be used. Two slaps on buttocks only and not when parent is angry. With older children, add a minute to time out for every 10 seconds the child is away to a maximum of 5 minutes, then take away a privilege. Take away a privilege for leaving time out prematurely.

4. Making a mess in time out room or area.
The child must clean up mess and pay for damages caused during time out.

  << Return
  Copyright 2010 iNET image, Inc,   Information subject to change without notice.   All rights reserved.