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Don’t overdo the time-outs


Rebecca Gants
Senior Information Specialist, West Central Region
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 816-812-2534

Published: Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Story source:

Diana Milne, 816-407-3490

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - Many parents and child-care providers use time-outs to guide and direct a misbehaving child. "A time-out can be effective with children, but it doesn't work equally well with all children and it doesn't work every time you use it," said Diana Milne, University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.

"Time-outs are most effective if implemented before a child's behavior gets totally out of control," Milne said. Used effectively, time-outs teach kids that there are consequences for their misbehavior without giving them the negative attention that comes with yelling or spanking.

Perhaps you've never used time-outs with children or you've tried this technique but haven't seen positive results. Consider these guidelines from the newsletter Work and Family Life:

  • Use time-outs sparingly. Don't try it when your child is throwing a tantrum and don't use time-outs all the time.
  • Remember the one-minute rule. Put the child in time-out for one minute per year of a child's life. For example, a 2-year-old would have a 2-minute time-out.
  • Start a time-out as soon as you see the behavior occur.
  • Be kind but firm. Briefly tell the child what he or she did wrong and explain acceptable behavior.
  • Find a good area for time-outs. The time-out area should be a quiet space away from the TV, computer and any major activity. You should be able to easily observe the child from a distance during the time-out period.
  • Use time-out props to formalize the time-out. For example, you may want to set a timer for the time-out period.
  • When the time-out is over, let your child know that he or she can leave the time-out area. Tell the child that you appreciate that he or she followed the rules by staying quietly in the time-out area for the set amount of time.

    The ultimate goal of discipline is for children to learn to handle their own emotions and behaviors in positive, responsible ways. Make sure your discipline techniques are realistic, age-appropriate and help children know what you expect. Remember to focus on telling children what they can do instead of reacting in anger and frustration to their misbehavior.

    For more suggestions, see the MU Extension guide "Positive Discipline and Child Guidance" (GH6119) at