Toddlers come with lots of challenges. It’s challenging when your baby grows into a toddler who has her own thoughts and ideas about what she wants to do and how she wants to interact with the world around her. It often comes with a fair amount of poor behavior that you’ll have to deal with. One of the most effective techniques that we use is the time out.
What is Time Out?
A time out is a discipline technique for young children. It involves removing them from a situation for a brief amount of time in order to adjust their behavior.
The goal is that the child won’t like missing out on all the fun and will be motivated to behave appropriately when they return to their play.
For example, if a child hits a friend or a sibling, you would pull them aside for a time out. The time out can be in the same room or in a different room, but the main point is that they must sit quietly and not be allowed to play.
When they get out of time out, hopefully the child will have learned that hitting is not acceptable behavior.
You can also use time out to get a child to do something when they refuse. In our family, kids are required to pick up their own toys.
They often aren’t excited to do it.
But if they refuse, they have to sit in time out until they are ready to do their work. It usually doesn’t take long for them to decide that it’s a better idea to just clean up the toys than it is to waste a lot of time in time out.
Does Time Out Really Work?
In my experience, yes! Time outs are one of the main techniques that we use to discipline our kids, and our kids are reasonably well behaved.
They generally do what they are asked to do, don’t give us attitude, and know how to behave like civilized humans in public.
Of course, they aren’t perfect. We still have trouble in certain areas that we continue to work on and train. But time outs have been very effective in our family, and I’m confident that they can help you too.
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1. Start Using Time Out Techniques at the Right Age
The great thing about time out is that it can be effective for very young kids. My philosophy is that if they are old enough to intentionally disobey, they are old enough for a time out.
That milestone will vary with each child, so it’s up to you as the parent to decide when it’s time to start using time out techniques.
I would venture to say that time out is appropriate beginning somewhere around 18 months to 2 years old.
2. Use an Appropriate Amount of Time for the Time Out
The length of a time out definitely depends on how old your child is.
A good rule of thumb is one minute in time out for every year they are old. For a child who’s 18 months old, one minute of time out is plenty. A five year old may need to sit there for 5 minutes or more to learn their lesson.
I find that it’s important to use a timer when you put your child in time out. It helps to reassure them that the time out won’t last forever and they’re more willing to sit there without too much coercion.
You can just use the timer on your microwave, but a visual timer can be really helpful for small kids.
However, the timer doesn’t start until they are sitting nicely in the chair of their own accord. Which brings me to my next tip:
3. Supervise the Time Out Closely
If you’re in the beginning stages of introducing time out to your child as a discipline strategy, you’ll want to supervise them very closely.
If you put an 18 month old in time out and then walk away, he’ll slip out of his seat and go right back to playing.
Or you might have a toddler who throws a fit and refuses to sit down even if you stay right there with him.
In those cases, you need to commit to the time out with him. Each time he gets up out of the chair, you pick him up and put his bottom right back down in the seat.
Kids can be very determined, so it’s important that you be more determined than the child.
In the beginning, you might have to put him back in his chair 100 times. But if you commit to doing that a couple of times, it won’t be long until they realize that resistance is futile and they sit in the chair willingly on their own.
When he’s finally sitting without attempting to get up, the timer can begin!
All of that hard work will be worth it when he learns to sit by himself in time out. You’ll have the freedom to be able to step away for a moment to work on laundry or tend to another child, and he’ll still be in his spot when you get back.
4. Keep Time Out Very, VERY boring
Your child should not have anything to entertain her during time out. No toys whatsoever. If she starts playing with a paper she found next to her, take it away. If she becomes very fascinated with her shoes, take them off.
If you’re doing time out in the same room with friends or siblings and she finds a way to get attention from them, move her to another location.
You should also avoid interacting with her during the time out. Don’t talk to her or make eye contact except to make sure she stays in her seat and doesn’t play with anything.
Any entertainment or attention that she can get during time out will make your time out techniques much less effective as discipline.
5. And the Best Time Out Technique: Connect With Your Child After a Time Out
After he’s sat in his chair nicely for the allotted time and the timer has gone off, it’s time for the most important time out technique of all!
You should always, always take a second to connect with your child before he returns to play time.
Remind them why you had to put them in time out in the first place and why that behavior is unacceptable.
Finally, reassure him with a hug and remind him that you love him very much. Make sure to let him know that you don’t like putting him in time out, but you had to because it’s your job to teach him how to obey and be kind.
If you use these time out techniques consistently, I think you’ll find that your child’s behavior will improve dramatically!
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Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.