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Time out

"Time out" is a technique used by parents and teachers in response to undesired behavior in a child. It involves removing the child from the environment and activities in which the inappropriate behavior occurred, and placing the child in a specific place for a specific amount of time. During time out, the child is expected to be quiet and reflect on the behavior.

Time out is an effective disciplinary technique in which no physical punishment is used. Professionals report that avoiding use of physical punishment may help prevent children from learning that physical violence or infliction of physical pain is the key to achieving desired results.

Children learn to avoid time out by ceasing the behaviors that have caused previous time outs or those that result in such warnings.



1) Find a place in your home that will be suitable for time out. A chair in the hallway or a corner will work. It should be a place that is not too closed-off, dark, or scary. It should also be a place that has no potential for fun, such as in front of a TV or in a play area.

2) Get a timer that makes a loud noise, and establish the amount of time to be spent in time out. It is generally recommended to do 1 minute per year of age, but no more than 5 minutes.

3) Once your child shows bad behavior, give a clear explanation of what the unacceptable behavior is, and tell the child to stop it. Warn the child of the consequences for not stopping the behavior -- sitting in the chair for a time out. Be ready with praise if your child stops the behavior.

4) If the behavior does not stop, tell the child to go to time out. Tell the child why -- make sure the rules are understood. Only say it once, and do not lose your temper. By yelling and nagging, you are giving the child (and the behavior) too much attention. You may guide the child to the time out spot with as much physical force as necessary (even picking the child up and placing him or her in the chair). Never spank or physically hurt your child. If your child will not stay in the chair, hold the child from behind. Do not speak, as this is giving the child attention.

5) Set the timer. If the child makes noise or misbehaves, reset the timer. If the child gets off the time out chair, lead the child back to the chair and reset the timer. The child must be quiet and well-behaved until the timer goes off.

6) After the timer rings, your child may get up and resume activities. Do not hold a grudge -- let the issue go. Since your child has served the time, there is no need to continue to discuss the bad behavior.

Updated: 1/24/2011

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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