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Effective Use of Time-Out


Parents often have questions about using time-out, or we hear complaints from parents who have attempted to use it, but report that the procedure doesn’t work.

It’s been our experience, however, that parents may not fully understand time-out procedures.

So here are some basics:

  • First of all, time-out needs to be explained to the child well before it is used. This conversation should occur when both the parent and child are calm. This is a critical step in the implementation of time-out; parents often assume that their child will just go sit somewhere for time-out, but like all things, children must have things clearly explained and checked for understanding…not in a heated moment…well before. The parent might need to take the child through a mini training session in fact, showing the child where he or she will go, how long it will last, what will happen if the child fails to comply, etc., and then ask the child to explain it back in his or her own words to check for understanding.


  • Time-out needs to be brief. Using time-out for extended periods of time is ineffective mostly due to the attention spans of typically developing children. When the time-out session is too long, the child often forgets why he or she was placed in time-out to begin with. The rule-of-thumb for how long time-out should last is about 1 minute per year of the child’s age, so for example, a five-year-old child should be in time-out for no longer than 5 minutes per session.


  • Never threaten to use time-out; certainly, you can and should give the child a warning that if the misbehavior continues, he or she will go to time-out, but that’s it. There should not be a stream of warnings that the child is going to go to time-out if he or she doesn’t stop. This is a common mistake that we see parents making, not just with time-out, but with punishment in general. Issue a single warning…no more. If the misbehavior continues after the warning (give the child a reasonable window of time, anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds depending on the behavior and child), then put the child in time-out or have the child go to time-out.


More to come on time-out, but if you have questions, or would like to schedule an appointment to work with one of our clinicians, please contact us at or 865-974-6177.