Time-out: When It Doesn't Work
When disciplining a 2- to 5-year-old child, time-out is your trump card. There isn't some better, magical approach. If you use time-out repeatedly, consistently, and correctly, your child will eventually improve. It's much more effective than yelling or spanking. If it's not working for you, re-think the following points:
- First: Give your child more physical affection each day. Be sure your child receives 3 "time-ins" for every time-out each day. A time-in is a brief, positive, human interaction, such as a hug. Try to restore the positive side of your relationship with your child. Catch her being good.
- Second: Use time-out every time your child engages in the behavior you are trying to stop. For the first two or three days, you may need to use time-out 20 or more times a day to get a defiant toddler's attention. Brief time-outs are harmless, and there is no upper limit on how many times you can use them as long as you offset them with positive interactions.
- Third: Use a variety of consequences for misbehavior besides time-out. Don't forget to ignore harmless behaviors. Also, use techniques such as distraction for bad habits and logical consequences, including the removal of toys or other possessions, when appropriate.
- Fourth: Really use time-out, don't just threaten to use it. For aggressive behaviors, give no warnings, just put your child in time-out. For other behavior, remind your child of the rule, count to three, and if she doesn't stop immediately, put her in time-out.
- Fifth: Put your child in time-out earlier. Don't wait until his behavior escalates. He is more likely to accept a time-out calmly if he's corrected promptly. If you wait too long, your child is more likely to scream in defiance. Also, putting him in early means you will be more in control. Try to send him to time-out before you become angry.
- Sixth: Ignore tantrums in time-out. Don't insist that your child remain quiet during time-out because it makes a completed time-out harder to accomplish. If he's spending lots of extra time there because of not being quiet, change your expectations. Many children under age 3 won't be quiet in time-out but that doesn't mean it wasn't helpful.
- Seventh: Give your child the option of coming out of time-out as soon as he is under control. Allow him to come out when he feels ready rather than taking the specified number of minutes. This can help some children who feel overly controlled.
Finally: Praise your child when she takes a good time-out. Forgive her completely when you release her from time-out. Don't lecture her or insist that she apologize. Give her a clean slate. Don't have your spouse rehash the time-out when he comes home; what's done is done.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 9/1/2005
Last Revised: 6/1/2000
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.