- Prepare appropriately (see article “Timeout: The Prep”)
- Decide on behaviors that warrant timeout
- Choose a location (e.g., chair)
- Discuss with child ahead of time
- Be calm. Never lose your cool. Don’t yell or scream. Using a low, firm voice is best.
- Do not lecture your child. Timeout is not the time for long explanations into what the child did wrong. This goes for before or after. A simple explanation, like “no hitting,” and placing the child in timeout is appropriate.
- Act immediately. Children need immediate consequences to their behavior. If your child misbehaves as you are running out the door or at the grocery store, stop and handle the situation right then. Timeout can happen anywhere. If timeout needs to happen in an unfamiliar location like the grocery store, improvise. Have your child stand in a corner or on a tile until the child is under control and ready to behave.
- Ignore. As your child is going to timeout, and once in timeout, ignore your child. It is supposed to be timeout from attention. Do not talk to your child or respond to your child’s screaming or pleas to get out. Even negative attention is reinforcing to a child.
- Set a timer. All of the experts, including The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend setting a timer that the child can hear. The rule of thumb is one minute of timeout for each year of age, e.g., three minutes for a three-year old. I must admit, we do not use a timer in our house. With my two-year old, I find it pretty easy to gauge two minutes. Plus, by not using a timer I feel like I have the flexibility to give him a little more or less time depending on how quickly he gets control of himself.
- Give only one warning. If the behavior is dangerous or aggressive, do not give any warnings. Place your child immediately in timeout. For all other behaviors, give one and only one warning. Then act. Your child needs to take your warning seriously and know that you will follow through.
- Be consistent. If you want your child to stop doing something, you must respond the same way every time or else your child is going to get mixed signals. This goes for both parents and all caregivers.
- If your child doesn’t go to timeout immediately when instructed, help your child there. This may require you calmly taking your child’s hand and leading him/her there. You may even have to pick your child up and physically put him/her in timeout.
- If your child gets out, put your child back. Respond to a child that gets out of timeout with a calm but firm “NO,” and put your child back in timeout. This is where a timer is helpful because you then can restart the time. If your child simply won’t stay in timeout, stand behind your child and hold him or her in place. Without making eye contact, as not to give your child too much attention, simply state, “I am holding you here because you must have a timeout.” Then start the time. In short order, your child will learn not to get out of timeout.
- End with love. Children need to know that while you may not like what they are doing or how they are acting, you still love them. Again, keep explanations short. A simple, “No hitting, I love you,” and a big hug is appropriate. Then resume regular activity.
- Time in. This is the most important step of timeout. Make sure that you recognize appropriate and good behavior by your child. Your child needs positive reinforcement through praise or physical affection. A child will do anything for your attention, even if that means acting out or misbehaving to get your negative attention. Catch your child being good.