Timeouts and Other Strategies

Children will test the limits, this is a given. Fortunately, there are some proven tactics parents can follow to help their children learn to choose appropriate behaviors:

  • Time the Timeouts – Use a timer to time your child’s timeout. Timeouts should last no longer than one minute per year of age. When the timer goes off, the child’s timeout is over.
  • Start a “Good Behavior Jar” – Using two jars, label one, “Good Behavior” and the other “Not Good Behavior.” In the “Good Behavior” jar place items that your child likes (e.g. Jelly Beans, M&M’s, small toys, etc.) and leave the “Not Good Behavior” jar empty. When the child misbehaves, take an item out of the “Good Behavior” jar and put it in the “Not Good Behavior” jar. At the end of the day, if they have more than three items in the “Not Good Behavior” jar, take away an activity they enjoy (such as an extra bedtime story or their favorite TV show) If there are no items transferred they get pick something special they would like to do.
  • Calm Down – If timeout doesn’t work well for you, this is another technique. Instead of sending your child into a fit and trying to get them to sit in timeout, have your child calm down and sit on your lap. Ask them to explain why they are in trouble and what they can do next time in the same situation.
  • Take Away Privileges – If your child is older and understands consequences, this is the way to go. Take away something he or she likes (such as TV), or something they enjoy doing (like having a friend over). The important thing with this is to always FOLLOW THROUGH.
How Do Time-Outs Work?

Children younger than three can’t really understand the idea of a “timeout” (a short period of time alone to think about misbehavior), though removing them from a particular situation in which they are misbehaving is an effective tool. How can you make timeout work for you? You must first help your child understand that a timeout isn’t a punishment, but a coping tool to help the kids get regain control of themselves. The following are a few more recommendations:

  • Be sure your child knows ahead of time which behaviors (hitting, name calling, etc.) will result in timeout.
  • Use a neutral area, such as the stairs or laundry room – any area that does not have a lot of distractions – as the timeout area.
  • While escorting your child to the timeout area, tell them, as calmly as possible, which behavior prompted the timeout and what they could have done instead. (“You can’t hit your sister when you get mad at her. You need to use your words or tell me.”)
  • Set a timer for the length of the timeout (one minute per year of age). Put the timer where your child can see it.
  • Remind your child that if he or she breaks anything in the timeout area or makes a mess, the timer will be re-set.

For Older Children:
Eventually kids over five stop being phased by the threat of a timeout, or they become openly defiant and refuse to sit for their allotted time. One solution is to take a personal timeout. Say to your child, “When you behave that way, I can’t think clearly. I need to calm down before I can talk to you.” Then go to the bathroom or bedroom and close the door. This temporary withdrawal will probably catch the attention of even the most defiant of older children.