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How to use time-out effectively

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Does time-out work?

Time-out is something I’ve used during my career and with my own children, (posing here quite happily for the purpose of this post) and yet I feel some time-out techniques highlighted by TV shows give the time out bad press and because of this many are unwilling to see the positive side of such techniques.

As with any parenting ideas, (you can read my views on smacking here,) techniques and advice, at the end of the day it is you as a parent that decides what is best for you and your child. You are the parenting expert on your own child.

The topic of time-out prompted me to ask my followers on Twitter if they used the technique and the response was pretty amazing. Everyone who replied, agreed that they had at some point, used time out, and that it worked well when used properly.

In my career working with children I have always used ‘time out’ when it has been needed.  The times I use it are usually when a child is hurting another or could potentially harm themselves. I do find distraction works far better and can help stop a tantrum or explosion happening (more tips on tantrums right here.) 

Why use Time-Out?

When a child has lost control, are fighting, hurting or biting another child it is important to remove them from that situation so they can calm down and think about what has happened/what they have done and how they are feeling. I’m not talking therapy thinking here – just a little time away with you to calm and be/feel safe.

Time-out doesn’t always mean leaving a child on their own! I think many misunderstand the technique. I think it works and is much nicer a technique if you can sit with them an talk about their behaviour, (older toddlers) even cuddle them if they are very upset. Time-out is simply about removing them from the situation so they can calm down. Time-out is designed to stop unwanted behaviour and to give your child some time and space from the situation and for older children in particular , to think about that behaviour. Sometimes having time out from the situation can decrease frustration, anger, temper and all the other emotions that come bubbling.

Explain Time-out to your child! I have to stress here that it’s very important when using time out, to explain what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how long they are going to be there. Even with toddlers. Putting a child on a ‘naughty step’ with no explanation and fighting with them to sit there isn’t ideal and isn’t going to help them understand why they are there. It won’t help them to feel reassured and it’s unlikely to stop them doing whatever they did that needed time-out, again.

The Naughty step! I have many parents contacting me regarding the naughty step! Lots say they can’t get their child to sit on it and have long battles. The problem is in the question- why use a step? If your child refuses to sit on the step because they are angry, it’s OK! As long as you have removed them from the situation they were in, you have achieved time-out


I had two toddlers at once. I very rarely needed to use time out as tone of voice (we’ll come to that later) is usually enough, as is distraction – a great technique into avoiding conflict.

Top Tips for successful Time-Out!

1. Only use Time out as a last resort. Try and talk through situations first, or use avoidance/distraction techniques. I use time out if a child is endangering themselves or others.

2. Think of a space in your home where time out can be used. Avoid bedrooms – it’s not good to make sleeping places negative spaces! (A little rhyme for you there!)

3. ALWAYS explain what you are doing and why. Talk about the time out place before you use it. Talk them through the first time you use it and never leave your child crying there for long periods of time. This defeats the whole point of time out.

4. ALWAYS get your little one to apologise to the person they have hurt. This encourages understanding feelings of others and empathy.

5. Don’t use a timer. A minute for each age is silly. Your child is 2 one day and 3 the next – that’s a whole minute more and makes no difference whatsoever! It’s not necessary. Use your judgement on what you think will work best for your child. I find sometimes even 30 seconds is enough to make them understand what they did was wrong.

6. Be consistent! Whatever time out technique you decide to use, ensure you do it the same way each time so the process is predictable and understandable to your child.

7. ALWAYS reassure and cuddle after time out has been used and don’t keep going over their silly/harmful behaviour or reminding them of what they did.

I use time out because I want my children to learn responsibility, sensitivity, empathy, and sharing – very important life skills that help them succeed in life and develop healthy relationships with others.

The point in educating little ones about their negative behaviour is that we want them to eventually learn how to stop themselves from using those negative behaviours and find a better way for themselves and to live and play happily alongside others.

 

8 Comments

  • FionaCambouropoulos (@coombemill)

    Fi everything you say here makes perfect sense, I can’t imagine anyone not agreeing with time out as you explain it here. I have always used it with my 6, works better for some than others, but that is just because every child is individual. Thanks for sharing

    • Fi

      I think everyone is entitled to use whatever technique is best for them but I have to agree with you- time out works when used properly.

      Thanks for your comments Fiona!

  • Maddy A

    Hello, from Maddy in Cape Town! Hope you and kiddies are all well!

    I’ve been a nanny for 12yrs & I have taught pre-school & nursery school as well. I’m surrounded by kids of family and friends. I’m a firm believer in time-out.

    Not only does it give the child an opportunity to calm down and take responsibility for his behaviour but it gives the adult a chance to decide the best way to handle the situation.
    Some days are more challenging than others for an adult too and those are usually the days that children act out. They just feel the under-lying tension and react badly to it.
    Time out prevents you from throwing your toys out the cot!Then you’re not ‘punishing’ but teaching appropriate and acceptable behaviour. You’re teaching your child to stop,think and then react.
    I also believe that if your reaction was out of proportion you should apologise and own your part in the drama. We do expect kids to apologise so we should too.

    You’re absolutely right that with the right tone you can stop potential trouble. And you have to be consistent in your response to bad behaviour,
    I’m so bad that the youngest knows she’s on the wrong track if I start with’ Sweetie’ & the older one if I start with ‘Darling’!They’re usually ‘Angel’ and ‘Sweetheart’.

    Even now that Brin is older if she does step outside of her usual- sweet, responsible, just all round loving- self,I will say to her ”Sweetie,we shouldn’t talk right now. Talk to you in a bit”. Then I’ll leave her and we’ll talk later.
    Every kid has ‘moments’ and so does sweet Brin. She’s all heart!

    Well that’s my take on it!
    Happy parenting!

    Maddy (MblueSA

  • babyblueeyes04

    I totally agree with all you have written. Time out is very helpful in enabling the littlies to calm down and take a step away from the situation. I have only had to use it with my 3rd daughter as the first two never got to a point where I couldn’t talk them through something. When I used it I found we only needed it for a while (was used for biting) if you take the time to use it well and can also manage to curb your own emotions about the situation and. Be calm yourself while talking to the child then it works very well. Good post Fi. 🙂

    • Fi

      Thanks you for your comments- I think you’re right in that every child is different and some don’t need time out.

      My toddlers very rarely visit the naughty step and it’s usually for biting or hurting one another.

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