Time out is a very useful tool for managing children's behavior especially in the pre-school years. Older children, preschool and above, will often respond to removal of privledges as well as time-out, but for younger children, time-out used with positive reinforcement is very useful.
It is a form of child behavior management that works very well for toddler discipline. It can be used from about the age of 18 months upwards. Time-out is just one way of managing toddler behavior issues - to read about more options, including positive reinforcement, click here.
You can use this to let your toddler know his behavior needs a change and to prevent a situation escalating. It is not a punishment as such, but it is "time-out" from positive reinforcement or from attention. So, if your toddler is fighting with his sister, time-out would be appropriate. If he is not doing as he's told, again time-out would be appropriate.
You can have immediate time out for behavior that is not acceptable at all, such as biting, hitting, cursing (swearing), and you can use the 321 approach for other things that are less serious such as not doing as he's told, eg. coming to the table for dinner.
I like to use the following "rules" when using time-out.
When your child is behaving in an unacceptable way, say "Stop doing that (be specific).
If he doesn't stop, give a second warning, "Stop doing that (be specific) and then give a count down, 3-2-1 with about 1 second between each.
If your child has not responded by 1, then take him immediately to time-out. Do not give a further chance.
Once your child knows that you always follow up on what you say, the 3-2-1 warning may be enough to stop the behavior you don't want.
Nothing. This is not a punishment but a form of child behavior management and it will still work even if your child is happy in time-out.
Put him back. Don't make a big fuss because you don't want this to turn into a game. Close the door behind you and then return to your activity (act as if you are completely uninterested in the whole thing - remember, you want to ignore behavior you don't want).
Keeping the time out period shorter usually means that you don't get into the situation where your child leaves time out, so you could try shortening the time-out period. It doesn't have to be a full minute per year and should not be more than that.
Let your child out at the specified time (less than 1 minute/year of age) and look for the first moment that you can give positive reinforcement. So as soon as he takes a breath, say "good boy for being quiet and calm". As long as he doesn't do whatever it was that put in him time out in the first place again, you don't need to do anything. To read more on temper tantrums, click here.
Last reviewed on 31 August 2011
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