Boy in time out

Time Out Tips

Parenting is full of firsts. First smiles, first words, first steps… and first time-outs.

Implementing consequences for poor behavior is not what comes to mind most when you think about becoming a parent but the reality is that all children will at some point exhibit behavior that will warrant a consequence.  Time out is recommended, as it is a non-physical approach to discipline.

Time out works because it gives the child a break from any attention (either positive or negative) for a specific time period to calm down and then move forward more effectively.  Keeping this point in mind, here are a few tips to make time-out more effective:

  • Limit attention you give the child during this time period (monitor as appropriate to ensure safety)
  • Select a dull, boring place for your time-out area
  • Time-outs longer than 5 minutes have not been shown to be more effective
  • A child needs to be reasonably calm to get out of time-out

For behavior that is persistently challenging or worsens over time focusing on consequences will likely not have the intended impact.  Research in parenting interventions to treat disruptive behavior is clear and unequivocal: Positive attention matters and is very important to shaping a positive relationship with your child and in turn more appropriate behaviors.

Attention Principal
The Attention Principle is one of the most important principles of parenting.  The Attention Principle simply put is what you pay attention to will increase whether it is positive or negative.  The amount of attention you place on positive behavior and successes has been shown to increase optimal outcomes for all children.

Praising simple behaviors such as, “I really appreciate you listening to my words,” and “I really appreciate you using a calm voice when talking to me” can make a big impact and make the likelihood of needing to use a consequence such as time-out less likely.   The most effective behavior change often does not occur though use of discipline techniques but instead reinforcement and coaching of positive behaviors such as those noted above.

For more tips, check out our blog post on Positive Discipline.

Cami Winkelspecht, Ph.D.
Dr. Winkelspecht is a Psychologist and Clinical Educator for Behavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to her role as a clinical educator, she coordinates the Incredible Years parent programming initiatives within behavioral health, is the Associate Track Director of the Child Clinical Internship training track for their APA approved psychology internship program, and serves as a cognitive-behavioral therapy consultant for the agency. She received her B.S. in Psychology and Child Development from Vanderbilt University and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Auburn University.

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