5 Ways to Make Time-Out a Success

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Discipline is one of the most non-glamorous (and often dreaded) aspects of raising children, but as any experienced parent will tell you, it’s an absolutely necessary part of your child’s growth and development. One of the most popular methods of discipline to emerge in recent decades has been the practice of “time-outs,” but as many parents have discovered, things don’t always go as planned when you actually try to apply this technique in daily life. If you’ve been unsuccessful with using time-outs in the past, don’t lose hope – below are 5 tips you can put into practice to begin making time-out a success.

1. Designate an appropriate time-out space.
As the old real estate saying goes, it’s all about “location, location, location.” Your designated time-out spot should be located in an area that is free from a lot of visual distractions (e.g., television, toys, etc.), while still being convenient enough for you to monitor what’s going on with relative ease. Consider using a chair, stool, bottom step, floor mat, or something similar as your designated area, and do your best to make it boring.

2. Decide on how much time they’ll spend in time-out.
This is a tricky part for many parents – exactly how long should your child stay in time-out? Experts recommend using one minute for every year of your child’s age as a good rule of thumb. For example, if you have a two-year-old, they should spend two minutes in time out, and a four-year-old would spend four minutes there. If the allotted time frame doesn’t seem to work, try increasing their “term” by about half of the original amount – e.g., the four-year-old would have an extra two minutes tacked onto their time.

3. Don’t hesitate.
A lot of effectiveness is lost in discipline by waiting too long to enforce your rules. For example, if a child has done something that earns them a spot in time-out, go ahead and enforce that punishment without delay. If you keep delaying or putting off their time-out until after you’re finished doing the dishes, straightening up the living room, etc., you’re communicating a message that discipline is something that doesn’t need to be taken all that seriously, and can be done when it’s convenient. The most effective time to issue a time-out is right when (or immediately after) the infraction has occurred. Keep in mind that young kids have very short memories, so if you wait to punish them well after they’ve performed the misdeed, they could have actually forgotten what they did wrong in the first place. Don’t hesitate!

4. Stick to your word.
Many parents hold the threat of time-out over the heads of their kids, but then fail to follow through even when the child’s misbehavior merits a punishment. Once you have clearly explained to your child that if they do a certain behavior, they’ll end up in time out, you must stick to your word and follow through with that statement every single time it happens. Children are much smarter and more observant than we tend to think they are, and if they perceive that they can cry, whine or negotiate their way out of a time-out, they’ll do it. After a while, they will no longer take your time-out threats seriously, because they will have realized that you don’t take them seriously either.

5. Turn it into a teachable moment.
The moments immediately before and right after the time-out happens are excellent times to focus on the teaching element of discipline. When you’re sending them to time-out, calmly tell them why – e.g., “Billy, no hitting your sister. Go to time out.” After the time out is finished, take some time to ask your child if they understand why they were put in time-out in the first place, and then allow them to tell you in their own words what they have learned about the experience. This will help reinforce their understanding of rules and boundaries, and it can oftentimes turn into an amazingly endearing moment.

While dealing with a time-out scenario isn’t exactly fun, it’s a vital part of teaching your child self-control and proper boundaries. Keep the above tips in mind to make your next time-out occurrence as hassle-free and productive as possible.

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