Timeouts are a form of behavioural modification that involves separating children from the environment in which they misbehave. The goal of timeouts is to remove the child from the enjoyable environment as a form of discipline for their unacceptable behaviour.
This form of discipline is especially common in western cultures, and Asian parents have begun adopting it as a more productive form of behavioural modification. Whether you’re trying it out for the first time or you’re trying to get it right, these five tips will help make timeouts more effective.
1. Pick a spot and suitable duration
You’ll want to first pick a spot for timeouts. This should be a spot that is convenient and in a location where you can monitor your child. You can use a chair, stool, floor mat or a corner of a room. Do not use the bathroom or bedroom for timeouts as this can make your child associate these places with being in trouble, making bath time and bedtime unpleasant. You can even name the spot thoughtfully; thinking chair, calm corner, quiet zone. Make sure that this area is away from distractions so that your child can really sit and think about what they’ve done.
Now that you’ve picked a spot, figure out the right amount of time your child would need for timeouts. A good rule of thumb is one minute per year of your child’s age. A 2-year-old should get two-minute timeouts, 3-year-olds get three minutes, and so on. If these durations don’t seem to work, increase the time by half. So two minutes becomes three, four minutes become six, and so on. Use a timer or clock to keep track of your child’s timeouts. While there isn’t a real limit to how many timeouts a child can get, be sensible about how often you use it.
2. Introduce the timeout spot
You should never spring timeouts onto your children. Take some time to introduce the timeout spot to your child when you are both in a good mood. Explain to your child that this is the spot they will have to sit in if they misbehave or break any rules. List out all the broken rules that warrant timeouts so that they are clear about it. Be sure to let them know how long a timeout may last for and that they should think about what they’ve done during these timeouts so that you both can discuss it when the timeout is over.
3. Don’t defer timeouts
As soon as your child does something that warrants a timeout, take them to the designated spot immediately. Do not wait until you are done with a task like washing the dishes or making dinner. Timeouts are most effective when they are put into place immediately as young children have a short attention span and memory and need to be corrected immediately after misbehaving. If you are away from home, use a corner, and empty aisle or a bench in place of your timeout spot.
4. Stay calm and collected
Timeouts are meant to give your child a break to get a hold of themselves, so you have to make sure that you control your emotions as well. It may be difficult if your child has done something to disrupt your day, but it is important to remember that the timeout is punishment enough. Point out your child’s inappropriate behaviour in a calm manner and be concise about what they have done wrong.
5. Make sure it sticks
After explaining which specific behaviours will lead to timeouts, make sure that you follow through every time without wavering. This consistency is important as it teaches your children about actions and consequences while also providing negative reinforcement to curb the unacceptable behaviour. If your child doesn’t keep still or keeps moving away from the timeout spot, bring them back and hold them down if you have to, but with minimal force. They will learn quickly that the sooner they keep still and sit through their time out, the sooner they can get back to whatever they were doing.
Immediately after timeouts, sit your child down and talk to them about their actions. First ask why they think they needed a timeout, and why they think what they did was wrong. Allow them to express their feelings and accept them, and then briefly remind them why timeouts occur. Praise your child for completing the timeout and then let go of any hard feelings before going about your day normally. Remember that your child now has a clean slate, so don’t bring up their mistake and use it against them in the future.
In case you missed it, here are some tips for helping your child develop good judgement that can go along with your disciplining strategy.