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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Parents - Tune In To Time Out

By Linda Milo

Most parents in America know what “time out” means. It's simply an effective tool parents use to encourage their misbehaving child to learn to behave. It is a teaching technique. It isn't a punishment, but rather a way for your child to control their own behavior. Time-out gives both of you time to calm down. It is a practice that allows you to react effectively without anger and distress. Since your child will test your limits often, time-out is a preventive measure that stops your child from pushing your hot buttons. Parents discover that over time, if they are consistent, with no giving in, time-out really works and it works without scolding or threatening your child.

Time-out is usually used when a child is arguing, using improper language, being disobedient, whining, throwing things, hitting, or having a tantrum. The only time you really shouldn't use time-out is when your child is crying. This form of discipline will only increase the need for further crying. It also sends a message to your child that you don't care about his feelings, which will make your child feel resentful, insecure, anxious, or frustrated. Allow your child to cry to release his feelings and after your child is finished crying, talk with your child about why he was feeling so sad. Be sympathetic while speaking to your child and let him know you care.

Time-out works because it's a method where your child can see and know that you are backing up what you are saying, i.e., “If you don't stop whining, then there'll be time-out for you.” It's a situation where actions speak louder than words! It's a way to deal with a problem right away, while helping your child understand what he did wrong. Time out is something that can easily and quickly be accomplished. Most children truly don't like time-out because it takes them away from something they enjoy doing.

To effectively accomplish the purpose of time-out, parents need to be aware that there are several guidelines.

  • First, parents should not use time-out for children under the age of two. A two-year-old child has no concept of time-out and will feel abandoned, misunderstood and unloved.

  • Second, only pick time-out for a single misbehavior that you want eliminated. Be sure your child understands the misbehavior.

  • Third, always explain to your child that if the misbehavior doesn't cease, then he will experience time-out. Don't try to explain time-out shortly after a blow-up. Explain time-out and how it works when things are going well. Choose a good time. Also describe the use of the timer.

  • Fourth, never use time-out as a surprise. Prepare your child for your actions by letting him know that when he misbehaves you will be using time-out. A parent should remain calm and detached from the disturbing situation. Your child should understand when and how you will use time-out. Talk often with your child about what to do the next time. This will help your child set limits on his behavior. This makes for better communication and understanding between you.

Every parent has a different way of presenting time-out. Some parents use a kitchen egg timer or some parents use a buzzer. They place it on a table, in a room that offers no distractions, such as laundry room or a spare bedroom. The setting for time-out must be completely safe. Remove anything in the room that may cause your child any harm. Check the room twice to make sure it is safe. Then calmly tell their child to sit in a chair quietly until the timer rings. Again, explain to your child that you want the misbehavior to stop. Once you've told your child that they have earned time-out, do not change your mind or be fooled by your child's sudden obedience and cooperative ways. Leave your child in the room with the timer (with or without the door open) and tell your child that you'll be right next-door. Time-out is an occasion for both you and your child to regain balance and a sense of tranquility.

Set the timer for two to five minutes. Start the timer once your child is seated and quiet. If your child starts to scream or have a tantrum while in time-out, just simply ignore it. After the timer rings, go to your child. Don't lecture your child after time-out. In fact, change the subject matter when your child exists the room. Explaining right and wrong can take place at another more amenable time.

Time-out is a technique that gives your child the opportunity to sense when his control is slipping. This will actually give your child the chance to give himself a time-out when he experiences himself losing control. Many children will cease misbehaving once they see their parent reach for the timer. They know what's coming and they modify their own behavior to become more cooperative.

Long time-outs don't change your child's behavior, but using time-out consistently does modify behavior. I've never heard of any child who was emotionally damaged by being asked to sit alone for two to five minutes. Always remember to be calm and in control when you are using time-out. Even though parents use time-out for misbehaviors, they should be using positive reinforcement for good behaviors as often as possible. So do yourself a favor and tune in to “time-out.”


Linda Milo, The Parent-Child Connection Coach, specializes in helping mothers and fathers turn their parenting challenges into a more livable, more workable, and more enjoyable family life. Her FREE better-parenting newsletter covers specific, proven, and immediately usable methods for overcoming the most common parenting challenges. Visit to subscribe to her FREE newsletter and also sign up for a free 45 minute consultation where you'll learn to parent with less stress.

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