How do I use a time out?

Time outs are a way of dealing with challenging behaviour. When you use a time out, you move your child to a neutral area.

Using time out is a way for everyone to take a break and calm down. Older children can also use them to manage their feelings or frustrating situations.

Here are some tips from ‘The Parenting Puzzle’ by Candida Hunt. See more at Family Links.

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Before using a time out

Let your child know what behaviour will result in a time out. Tell them how long time out will last (usually 5 to 15 minutes). Then explain where the time out will take place.

This could be a step, a corner of the room, or another part of the house. Make it close enough for you and your child to see and hear each other. It should be free of toys, games and entertainment – it’s a space to reflect on things.

Using the time out

If your child breaks a rule, give them one clear warning. Remind them which rule they’ve broken and that they have one more chance. If it’s something like a ‘no hitting rule’, you might go to time out straight away.

If they break the rule again, tell your child they’re in time out. Send them to the time out space and tell them how long they’ll be there.

Use a timer (e.g., on your phone) to stick to the time limit. Stay close-by, but don’t give your child direct attention. Ignore any arguing, promises or pleading.

When it’s over, praise your child for doing it well. Then invite them to join you in something fun. This is ‘time in’.

After the time out

Once you’ve both calmed down, sit down and talk about the time out with your child.

  • Ask how they were feeling before doing whatever led to the time out.
  • Ask them to suggest what they could do if that feeling happens again.
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