Child time-out

A time-out is a parenting technique recommended by many pediatrists, and developmental psychologists as a less harmful alternative to spanking and other traditional forms of discipline. In brief, the idea is to keep the child isolated for a limited period of time, thereby possibly allowing the child to calm down, learn coping skills and discourage inappropriate behavior. It is also a time for parents to separate feelings of anger toward the child for their behavior and develop a plan for discipline.

Applying the technique

The technique is recommended mostly for toddlers and upwards. For an older child, the parent is advised to explain what kind of behavior will result in a time-out and also write down those rules. When implementing the time-out, it is suggested that no arguing should be allowed -- that may work counter to the idea behind the time-out, which is to allow the child to calm down. Time-outs are not recommended for frequent use, but since they are a considered a mild form of discipline they are sometimes not taken as a last resort.

The following guidelines are usually given for time-outs:

  1. Decide what type of behavior warrants a time-out, and try to enforce this fairly and consistently. All adults involved with the child should follow similar guidelines when using a time-out.
  2. Designate a corner or similar space where the child is to stand during time-outs. Never use their bed.
  3. Use an age appropriate time length for the time-out. For a short time-out, approximately one minute per year of age is reasonable; that time may be doubled if necessary if the child pushes their limits during the time-out.
  4. Have an incentive for completing the time-out without arguing. This may for instance be a loss of a privilege until the time-out has been completed.
  5. The time-out should always have verbal warnings before the discipline to allow the child to make appropriate choices. If their "bad" behavior continues, they should have an explanation for the time-out as they are being escorted to that area. Even one-year olds understand when they have reached their parental limit, but the explanations should be age appropriate.
  6. Afterwards both the parent and the child should try to leave the incident behind.

Some of those in favor of spanking have argued that time-outs are ineffective. Others argue that it should be seen as a complement rather than as an alternative to spanking. For instance, a spanking may be followed by a time-out. Remember that to discipline means to teach. No disciplinary technique should be used without the child understanding why the behavior was unacceptable and what behavior is acceptable.

copyright 2004