How to Use "Timeout" with Children

What is Timeout?

Timeout is a technique commonly used by parents/educators to decrease undesirable behavior by having children take time out or away from positive reinforcement (i.e., rewarding experiences). The child is removed from the trouble spot and placed in an isolated area for a number of minutes, thereby stopping the disruptive behavior; in the case of a tantrum, both the child and adult have time to cool off.

Timeout Area

When a child is in timeout, he/she should be asked to stay in a designated location (ideally the same spot so the child knows what to expect), preferably in sight of the parent/adult. There should be few items around to distract the child during timeout.

During Timeout

For the duration of timeout the parent/adult should not interact with the child. In turn, the child should not be talking to others, playing with toys, watching TV, listening to the radio, reading a book, banging, mumbling or grumbling out loud. Any violation of these terms results in a resetting of the timeout clock, starting over again.

Time Spent in Timeout

Timeouts typically last from two to 10 minutes, although the time can be increased for particularly offensive behavior (i.e., destroying property, hitting another child). A clock or a timer with a bell should be within the child's sight. Fellow daycare, classroom or house members should be made aware of the timeout protocol and know not to interrupt or interfere with the child in timeout.

Target Specific Behaviors

The key to the success of the timeout technique is that the child be fully aware of the undesirable behavior which prompted the timeout. Let the child know which behaviors you will be working on, i.e., "This is what we will do when you..." (Generally, no more than three behaviors should be targeted at one time). The targeted act should be explicitly expressed, i.e., "You need a timeout for hitting Jamie." At the end of timeout, ask the child to tell you why he/she was in timeout, reminding them if necessary. They should apologize to any offended parties, if this was the issue, and the adult should offer some encouraging words, such as: "I know next time you'll remember...," "I love you," "Good job."

Benefits of Timeout

When used consistently each time a specific behavior occurs, timeout has a proven record of effectively reducing problematic behavior. It eliminates yelling and hitting on the part of the adults, and the child learns that it is his/her behavior that is responsible for the 'punishment.' If a child has frequent timeouts, a reward system can be instituted which connects fewer timeouts per day or week to something the child values.

Timeout Refusals

Strategies might be necessary for children who refuse to go into timeout. Each case is individual and should be handled in a manner that best suits the child involved. The following are some strategies for handling resistance to timeout:

•- Young children can be told that their timeout time will double if they are not in timeout by the time you count to three.

•- Let them know that until they complete their timeout period, their "currency" - wherein currency refers to an object or activity which the child values - will be taken away.

•- You may have to hold your child during timeout if they can't get there by themselves. Typically, after a short time children learn to stay in timeout without being held.