Top 10: Time out!

10 need to know facts about time out:

  1. “Time out” is officially an abbreviation for “time out from reinforcement,” which means it works because the kid is removed from reinforcing (motivating) things following unwanted behavior.

    Therefore, be very careful of where you send your kid to time out…make sure there are not a lot of people around, a lot of toys around or other things with which the kid can engage.  And if it is your attention he wants…read #6.

  2. Time out is a strategy, not a place.  Therefore, it is not necessarily a chair or a place in the corner, although it can and does help to have a predetermined place for this.
  3. Time out will not work if it is used when the kid is avoiding demands, work, homework or something else he or she does not want.  Actually, it can be counter-productive (you would essentially be giving them escape by sending them to time out).
  4. Time out durations longer than 3-5 minutes are not more effective than shorter durations.  Therefore, you can keep the time brief and be as effective.  The whole “minute per year of age” as a guide for how long the time out should be is a myth.  It’s not going to do lasting harm, I just would not feel obligated to follow the “rule.”
  5. It is helpful to have a timer. This is more for your consistency than anything else, so when you start a time out, tell your kid “you need to be calm for 2 minutes, I will start your time when you are calm.”
  6. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH YOUR KID DURING TIME OUT.  PLEASE!  Don’t fall into the trap of saying “I can’t talk to you while you are in time out.”  Think about that for a moment.  Wait it out.  This is not a time to berate your kid.  SHH!
  7. If he gets up and out of the time out area, be close enough to quietly and calmly redirect them back to the time out area.

    WARNING: some kids like this “game” and it can turn into a bit of a dance (notice if the kid is laughing, running or trying to play chase).  If this happens it is OK to ditch the time out and simply ignore and make sure the options are limited for things your child can get into (see #10).  Whenever the child wants something, calmly remind him he has to “finish his time” before doing anything.

    If you do get into the dance, time out might not be the best choice for you…ignoring strategies will be more effective and manageable.

  8. Keep it brief and move on. Wait until she is calm to talk. This is the time to talk about what happened…not before or during the time out.
  9. When you return, start by saying, “thank you for calming down, you are done with your time.  Now what happened?”  Do not force the answer, but do use this question as a barometer for if the kid is ready to move on or not.  If not, tell him “I’ll give you a few more minutes to calm down then we can talk about it.”
  10. If your kid wants your attention and you are ignoring her, you are essentially conducting a time out.  This is a version of what is called a “non-exclusionary time out,” which means you can get the behavioral effects of a time out without physically removing the child.  I also call this a “walking time out.”  If you do this, remember #8 and re-engage with your kid as quickly as possible when she is doing what you want her to be doing (e.g. not annoying you, waiting patiently, etc.).