Time Out

“Time Out” is an approach to disciplining your child that enables you to remove the child from a very challenging situation in a calm and confident manner.

Time out has lots of different names. You might have heard parents talking about the naughty step, a naughty chair, thinking time or the quiet corner. These are all different names for the same basic technique.

Before we talk about how to use Time Out effectively, you should be aware that Time Out is something which should be used sparingly, respectfully and as a last resort. Organisations such as the NSPCC have suggested that Time Out can be as damaging as smacking to children if it is overused, or used inappropriately. Take a look at our Alternatives to Time Out article for more ideas on how to effectively discipline your child.

So what exactly is Time Out? It is a way of dealing with very disruptive behaviour that gives both you and your child time to calm down and think about what has happened. The child is removed to a quiet place for a short period of time and asked to think about what has happened. If you decide that you want to try using Time Out, there are a few key steps to make it a more effective and less damaging tool:

1) Before you start using Time Out, take a few moments to plan how you are going to implement it:

  • Think about the best place in your home to make into a quiet spot.
  • If you want to use Time out while you are aware from home, visiting friends, at the park or a soft-play centre, then you need to think about how you might adapt your approach to different environments.
  • Talk to your child about your plans so they aren’t taken by surprise in the middle of a challenging situation.

2) Your quiet spot should be somewhere very boring and dull:

  • There should be no toys, TV or distractions.
  • It should be somewhere close to the rest of the family, where you can still see your child and they can see and hear you.
  • Bedrooms are not a good place to use for Time Out. There are too many fun distractions and it may lead the child to wrongly associate bed-time with being a punishment.

3) Time out should only be used for 1 minute per year of your child’s age:

  • A  four year old should sit in their quiet spot for four minutes, whilst a six year old would sit for six minutes.
  • Time Out is not effective for very young children as they lack the understanding to be able to reflect on their behaviour, most children will be between 2 and 3 years old before they are able to understand.

4) When you find yourself dealing with very disruptive behaviour and your other discipline techniques are not working, warn your child that if they carry on you will send them to their quiet spot. Let them know what to expect and give them time to adjust their behaviour. Speak calmly and confidently without shouting.

5) If the behaviour continues, gently and respectfully remove your child to the quiet spot. Explain clearly why they are being given Time Out and how long it will last. With younger children you may need to sit with them or gently hold them.

6) Make the time as boring as possible, keep talking to a minimum and try to avoid giving your child any further attention. This will help your child get the message that their challenging behaviour was pointless, unrewarding and not worth repeating.

7) Once the time is over, take few moments to talk with your child about what has happened:

  • Find out what was happening from your child’s point of view, perhaps the situation was more complicated than you realised.
  • Help them to acknowledge and talk about their feelings. Were they feeling angry, frustrated, tired or sad?
  • Talk about how you and they could handle things differently in future, so that extreme situations can be avoided. Older children may have their own ideas on how to deal with tricky situations more calmly and effectively.

8) Let your child know that you love and accept them, even if you do not like their behaviour. A hug is a great way of ending a Time Out.

Don’t get too hung up on insisting that your child apologises. You may find yourself embroiled in a battle over the “saying sorry” or “say it like you mean it” while everyone forgets what the original problem was. Young children, in particular, may not fully understand the connection between their behaviour and the need to say sorry.

For more information on “Time Out” and encouraging better behaviour, visit these links:

by Helen, Mum to Thea and Matthew

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