Timeouts for Children

When children misbehave, it can be difficult to know how to stop the bad behavior at the moment and how to keep it from reoccurring in the future.  Timeouts are a useful tool for handling a variety of bad behaviors in children.  I think most parents are familiar with at least one form of timeout. There are several strategies out there that very slightly, but here is the basic timeout scenario:


  • Kid misbehaves
  • Parent requests that the child stop the behavior
  • Kid doesn’t stop
  • Parent calmly sends/puts child into timeout (usually for their age in minutes)
  • After timeout the slate is clean
  • If misbehavior occurs again, then he goes into timeout again



When to Use Timeouts

Timeouts are good for stopping bad behavior or for giving an upset child a chance to calm down and regroup. They work best for young children, from about 2 ½ to 5 years of age, but sometimes are effective for older children up to age 12 or so, but with appropriate modification.  It could be humiliating for an older child to be forced to sit in a corner or on the ‘timeout chair.’ Going to their room to think for a while may be more appropriate.



When Not to Use Timeouts

Timeouts are much less effective for getting children to start doing something they are told to do and should not be used in these cases.  An example is putting a child in timeout for not brushing his teeth. This will upset him, but likely won’t be very effective at getting the desired action afterward, brushing his teeth.  Even if it does work one time, it won’t help him to do it the first time asked in the future.


Timeouts should not be used as a punishment alone. Although technically a timeout may also be a punishment, its primary purpose is a consequence. They occur immediately after the bad behavior.  Postponing a timeout, for instance in the car saying to your child, “If you don’t stop yelling you’re getting a timeout when we get home!” is not an effective use of a timeout. This displaces the timeout from the misbehavior and it becomes merely a punishment.  Without the immediacy, it will be ineffective.


Not All Timeout Strategies are the Same 

I know of several variations on the concept of timeouts for behavior modification for children, and I’m sure each parent makes adjustments to suit his own children and parenting style. The methods of giving children timeouts that I am aware of are from Super Nanny; 1,2,3 Magic; and Positive Discipline. I’m sure there are many more. Different methods may be appropriate for different parenting styles, different children, and at different ages.


My Experience With Timeouts

I have written an overview of my experience using timeouts for disciplining my daughter and how they have changed over time. It’s not always an easy solution, but finding a timeout system that works for you and your child is worth the effort and persistence.

My advice for parents is to read up on the different timeout strategies and try them out.  If one doesn’t sit well with you then try another or modify it to suit your family. When used appropriately, I think timeouts for discipline not only improve behavior, but also make for a happy child and foster a good relationship between child and parent.