The big part of being successful in changing behavior is finding out what consequences work with each of our kids and using consequences effectively. Time out often works when other things don’t. I often hear parents say, “It doesn’t matter if we take screens away. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have friend time.” Those kinds of consequences for some kids don’t matter, yet time outs generally do.

Learn how to use time out effectively from therapists and dad of six, Jeff Tesch, LMFT


There seems to be a lot of debate about Time-out vs. Time-in.  If you would like to read more about that, here is a GREAT article!

Here at Parent with a Pro, we are supporters of time-out when done appropriately.  We also use time-ins for certain situations.  We love having both tools at our disposal.

Personally, using appropriate time outs has drastically changed our strong-willed child’s behavior.  We watched carefully to see if time-outs would have any negative affects on her self-esteem or on our relationship.  We saw the opposite!  A brief time out is our go to consequence and it has been so effective that we RARELY see misbehavior any more.  Our daughter is so much happier and our home is much more peaceful!  She frequently expresses her love for us and even tells us that we’re awesome!  I think it’s because we’ve followed the principles taught by marriage and family therapist, Jeff Tesch.

Read on to learn what we’ve learned.

Jeff Tesch, LMFT

Does Time Out Damage?  

There’s some misinformation out there that time out is damaging.  However, there’s no real science that supports that. Once again, to learn more about the research, click here. In my experience, you don’t need to worry that a child having a break from their activity, from interaction, even interaction with you is going to be damaging. We could get into some extremes with time out. We’ll make sure to clarify what’s appropriate in this post. But when you’re using it appropriately, you don’t need to worry that it’s harmful.

Why Time Out Is My Most Recommended Consequence

The big part of being successful in changing behavior is finding out what consequences work with each of our kids and using consequences effectively. Time out often works when other things don’t. I often hear parents say, “It doesn’t matter if we take screens away. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have friend time.” Those kinds of consequences for some kids don’t matter, yet time outs generally do. They are more often likely to work even for a child that doesn’t seem to care about other things being taken away.

  • It is convenient
  • You can use it multiple times during the day
  • You can use it when you are on the go
  • It motivates most kids to control their behavior because kids want to avoid having to take a break from what they’re doing to sit on a chair.
  • You can use a time out with kids of ALL ages
  • We can start using time out as soon as our kids are toddlers. That allows parents to nip bad behavior in the bud

Will Time Out Work For All Kids?

Time out is not for infants.  Also, there will be some kids who will not be motivated by time outs.  Before you decide that time out doesn’t work, be sure to try it CONSISTENTLY for a period of time.  Also, sometimes I tell parents to increase the time out time before they give up on it.  A nine year old can have a twenty minute time out.  You don’t have to do the “one minute per year of life” rule.  Just do what works.

What does an correctly done time out look like, sound like, feel like?

  1. When a child misbehaves, if you’re using time out for that behavior you would be very brief stating what mistake was made. Example: “You hit your brother time for a time out”.
  2. Then you move them quickly to the time out.
  3. There’s not a lot of lecturing. You’re not angry or frustrated. Instead, be more matter of fact.  You may have to hide how frustrated you are.
  4. You can even validate their experience by empathizing with what they might be feeling.Example: “You’re really disappointed that your brother took your toy.  You just got so angry, you hit him.”
  5. Start the timer.  You can try one minute per year of life or a little longer. It’s nice if the child can see the timer and know how much longer they have.
  6. You need to expect that the child sits there. A great response if the child keeps getting up is every time they get up, the timer starts over again. If the child starts yelling or throwing things, start the time over again.I do think it’s OK to let them show some emotion. One important thing I teach parents is that we don’t discipline emotion, rather we discipline inappropriate behavior.

    Example: If your child is crying a little bit, you don’t need to give further consequences or restart the time for that. If they become inappropriate in their expression, yelling at you or calling you names, start the timer over.
  7. Don’t lecture after a time out. Sometimes we say way too much as parents. When the timeout is over, you can briefly say “Good job. You finished your time out, you’re welcome to go back and play again.”Your child has paid their dues for the mistake.  There is no need to drag it out any longer.
  8. Consistency, consistency, consistency! No matter what consequence you’re using for misbehavior, you need to use it every time.  If the child is clear on what’s expected, do not use warnings, threats, or second chances.  You really will save you and your child so much frustration is you cut out all the extra stuff. Read ALL about that here.Your kids will test your resolve.  They will wait until you’re somewhere inconvenient, then misbehave just to see if you will follow through.  The quicker you learn to be consistent NO MATTER WHAT the quicker you will see negative behaviors disappear.

Where Should I Have My Child Do Timeout?

Do what will work for the child. Some kids go to their room and others a chair. Just whatever place is boring enough that they are motivated to avoid time out.

I don’t think we ever need to get to where we’re having them put their nose on the wall or standing in the corner facing the corner. But I think finding a place where they’re not going to have a lot of things to be looking at. Definitely away from where they could be watching a TV or video games.

If you’re not at home, find a bench, use your car, find a curb. Be creative. Taking 10 minutes to run out to the car with a child and letting them know that you’re going to follow through wherever you are, can make a big difference.

What Should The Parent Do During Time Out?

You don’t want to be giving you child a lot of attention. Your child can learn ways to keep you engaged the whole time by, threatening to keep getting out of the chair or asking you a lot of questions. If you respond, that can be enough attention that the time out won’t work well. You don’t have to isolate them either and you don’t have to prevent them from having any visual of anyone.  You just don’t want to be engaging them and having chats with them.  That can actually reinforce the negative behavior.

How Long Should Time Out Be? What If My Child Keeps Getting Off Time Out?

Again, you might have to tweak it according to your particular child. There’s a rule of thumb that’s been said a lot, one minute per year. If that works, great! But I tend to think that that’s not long enough for most kids. You’re not going to harm a young child by having a 10, 15 minute timeout.

If the child keeps getting up, reset the timer.  If it’s a younger child, put them back on time out.  Even if it takes 45 minutes to get that two minutes in, I still think you’re on the right track. You want the child to know that they will complete the consequence no matter how long it takes. With strong-willed kids, it could take a while before they learn that you won’t give in.  Maybe even months.

Don’t have time out be hours at a time. I’ve had parents that put kids in their room for the rest of the night or for hours on end. That’s less healthy and less appropriate. That can lead to the child feeling rejected, feeling angry and even retaliating.

What if I Think Time Out is Not Working?

  1. Now let’s troubleshoot for a minute. Let’s say that you’ve been trying time out for a while and you’re not seeing a decrease in the behavior you’re using it for. I would first look at how long the time out is. You might want to consider increasing the time.If you feel like it’s a reasonable amount of time, you might want to try a different consequence all together. While time out is effective for many children, it is not a one size fits all.

Happy Parenting!


Want YOUR Parenting Questions Answered By a Child Therapist?

Join our private Facebook group where we host a weekly "Ask the Expert" Facebook live. You can ask YOUR parenting question and a child therapist will answer it.

We've answered hundreds of questions and want yours to be next!

Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Comment