Ten Absolute Timeout Musts

Have a young child? Chances are you’ve used timeouts. Timeouts are considered very effective and one of the few strategies recommended a by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP).  However, timeouts only work when used properly-something most parents are failing to do!

While three out of four parents use timeout to discipline, almost 85 percent (84.9%) make at least one major mistake.

timeouts for toddlers

The Most Common Mistakes:

  • Speaking to a child during timeout
  • Offering multiple warnings before placing a child in timeout
  • Threatening a timeout but not following through

Unfortunately, these are just a handful of mistakes used by moms and dads. Search the internet and you’ll find plenty of timeout tips. According to the National Institutes of Health, many of these articles aren’t sending you in the right direction.

Effective Timeouts Require the Following:

An Overall Positive Environment

Children are attention-seekers. If they don’t get enough positive attention, negative attention becomes just as valuable. Timeouts work by removing attention–both positive and negative. Timeouts teach children that unwanted behavior leads to removal, something must kids don’t want.  For timeouts to work, children need to have an overall positive environment.  This makes it easier for children to notice when the positive attention is removed. A positive environment also helps children feel secure during the confinement of timeout.  If your child is not in a stable  environment at this time, an alternative to timeouts might be best for now.

One Warning

One single warning is all that is needed before sending your kiddo to timeout. This single warning quickly teaches her to choose wisely or prepare for a consequence.
“Maria, give Lilah her doll back or you will go in a timeout.”

Consistent Follow-Through

If Maria refuses to give Lilah the doll back put her in timeout immediately. Without this follow-through Maria will learn that she may be able to get away with bad behavior.

A Simple Reminder of Why Your Child is Heading to Timeout

One final note before timeout begins helps your child connect the unwanted behavior to the consequence. The shorter the reminder, the better. “Maria, Lilah’s doll-timeout.”  No arguments allowed. Send your child to timeout and end communication.

An Established Duration for the Timeout

Not all experts agree on how long a timeout should last. Studies show that  a four to five-minute timeout is most effective, but every child is unique.  Consider your child’s age and capabilities. Four minutes is a long time for any three-year-old to sit still. For this reason, parents often add  one minute of timeout per year of age.  Regardless most experts agree, a proper timeout should not end until a child has been calm for 30 seconds.

A Plan For Non-Compliance

What if your child refuses to go to timeout or has become a timeout “escape artist”? Experts emphasize: don’t give up. Some suggest returning your kiddo to timeout until they stay put. The result:  he will quickly come to realize timeout can’t be avoided. Other options include adding another consequence, such as removing a toy or privilege in addition to completing the timeout.  Most experts agree, the clock resets when your child leaves timeout without permission.

Safe Confinement (From Attention)

Your child should always be placed in a safe, visible location. Monitoring her safety should be the only attention she gets during timeout, from anyone.  As noted above, timeouts are only effective when all attention is removed. No verbal communication is allowed. This may be difficult if you’re a parent who finds this painful. It’s also challenging if your son or daughter pulls you into an argument or conversation. Added time or consequences should be as brief, and neutral, as possible. To increase the effect, the timeout shouldn’t include any entertainment.

A Positive Ending

Once timeout is over, interact with your child immediately. Hug or kiss her and thank her for cooperating. This reinforces the return of positive attention.

Final Compliance

After timeout has ended, your child should complete the initial task whenever possible. This includes returning a toy to another child, picking up left out toys, speaking politely, etc. Without this step, he may assume the timeout is worth skipping out on a task. More importantly, he won’t get the opportunity to learn how he could have handled the situation better.

Additional Praise and the Return to A Positive Environment

Once your child has completed timeout and followed up on your rules, be sure to offer plenty of honest praise. “Thank you for picking up your books. You were very careful when you put them on the shelf.”  Genuine praise encourages future positive behavior. Don’t forget to return to a supportive and positive environment.

If your child continues to battle traditional timeouts, these  Timeout Twists  provide excellent alternatives.

Susan Graham

My most significant role is as a mom of three. What a wonderful role to have! Parents know balancing it all can be tough. I'm grateful for the amazing tools I've learned as a parent educator. My household runs smoother, is more on task and all with less stress! My kids (even my teens) openly communicate with me, and respect is heavily valued. I'm grateful to share my education with other parents, as well as practice what I preach at Huron Valley Schools as a Parent Involvement Coordinator. I'm currently working toward the 4800 hours required for certification as a Family Life Educator. I share many of these parenting tools and insight at achievelifebalance.org.

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