The Right Way to Impose a Time-Out

by Kathleen Gemmell October 14, 2016

“Jay, this is your warning. If you don’t choose to listen, you will have a time-out.”

“But, I don’t wanna brush my teeth…they’re clean, I promise.”

“Okay, time out now. Go to the bottom step and you will sit for four minutes and think about being a better listener.”

I was raised in an era when spanking was the mode of punishment. I use that word as it truly was a harmful way to be disciplined. My mother would wait until my father arrived home from work and he would put me over his knee and smack away. (If I was, “sassy,” I would get the soap in the mouth treatment.)

I realize that there are parents who are proponents of corporal punishment: “I was hit when I was a kid and I turned out fine,” may be the reasoning.

Hitting teaches a child two lessons. The first is that the bigger person wins. The second is that one gets another to obey through violence. Obviously, neither is reasonable and won’t stand the test of time.

Prior to having a child, I was a preschool teacher. Our training included the time-out method and I learned that this, too, can be abused. I've seen adults dragging a child to time out, cursing at the child and using inappropriate, anger-filled words. “If you don’t go to time out NOW you won’t have any dinner!”

Time-outs should be used as a consequence, not a punishment. The main idea is that it gives the child a chance to calm himself and to think quietly.

Here are six steps to a successful time-out:

1 | Choose an isolated spot and use it for all time-outs.

2 | Give just one warning.

It is not effective to repeatedly threaten. Speak in a normal tone of voice without yelling.

3 | The child should go to the spot on her or his own.

This may take time. I know of parents that had to carry a kicking, screaming child to the spot for over an hour until that child stayed seated. Perseverance is the name of the game!

4 | Give one minute of time-out for each year of the child's age.

5 | Start timing when the child is quiet.

6 | After the time passes, calmly state why the child was having a time-out.

“Jay, I asked you to brush your teeth and you didn’t listen. I love you. Please go brush your teeth.”

Children are not born knowing our regulations. A child must learn that this family brushes their teeth twice a day, for example.

The earlier you begin, the easier it is to use this method. Two years of age is an appropriate starting time and might help ease the Terrible Twos! An older child will certainly benefit as well, but instigating this may take some extra patience.

As kids get older, they often will test our rules. Using a time out can be a great means to an end.

Kathleen Gemmell


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