Time-Out for Kids: Common Mistakes to Avoid

Image of boy punished

When you become a parent, you soon learn that the feeling of the overwhelming love you feel for your children doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll allow them to do as they please all the time. As they grow, children learn about the world, and they always try to test the boundaries. Every now and then, they will step out of line and misbehave, and this is where you as a parent should discipline them. Time out for kids has become one of the best discipline methods, but there are some common mistakes that you as a parent should avoid.

Always warn them

A common mistake a lot of parents make is announcing a time-out for a toddler suddenly, without giving out a warning first. It’s understandable why you choose to do so at times: if your child misbehaves, it’s only natural that you want to react quickly and teach them that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Still, if you do this, children might not understand why you ‘punished’ them, and they can get angry in the process. If you notice they are misbehaving, always warn them that that kind of behavior will get them to time-out. You’ll notice that sometimes even a threat will be enough for them to drop the attitude and calm down. Of course, if the threat doesn’t work, send them to time-out, but always warn them first.

Give them an explanation

When you feel like they’ve taken things too far and that they need to cool down a bit, inform them they will now go to time-out and always tell them why. Don’t hesitate and be to the point: “You’re going to time-out because…“ and then give them an explanation. Another important thing is that you should tell them this one time only, which means no repetitions and no explanations on your part. They will probably start pleading and promising to be good immediately, but if you’ve warned them already and told them they’re going to time-out, you should stay firm and not back down. Don’t lecture them and don’t try to give long explanations, simply send them to their place or take them there if they don’t want to go on their own.

Stay firm

This leads us to the following: what if the child outright refuses to go to time-out? As frustrated as you might feel at that point, it’s necessary to stay calm and not take back the decision to send them to time-out anyway. If they refuse to go on their own, take them by the hand and lead them to the chair, or pick them up and carry them there. Tell them to sit down (or place them on the chair) and inform them that they should stay there until you tell them that time-out is over. They might continue to cry, throw tantrums, or even plead at this point, but you should stay firm and let them stay there for as long as you decide it’s necessary.

Image of daughter ignoring her mother after argument

Don’t talk to them

Time-out for kids is the time when they should calm down, and this simply can’t be done if you talk to them while they’re sitting in the chair or the special time-out place. They should be alone, and they should stay quiet, which means that neither you nor anyone else should talk to them. This is not a quiet time for them to play and chat with their siblings and members of the family, but rather a time that will allow them to calm down after a tantrum. If they refuse to sit there, pick them up and return them to the place without a word. If this means that you should repeat the action several times, do so without giving them the attention they ask. You will notice that slowly, time-out for toddlers is becoming easier on both of you.

Make it boring

Not talking to them during time-outs is imperative, but you should also deliberately try to make it as boring for them as possible. Don’t make eye contact and don’t reply even if they start yelling or saying things like “You’re the worst mom/dad in the world”, “Why you must be so mean to me?”, and “This isn’t fair”. They might demand an explanation, but if you warned them in advance and clearly stated why they are being sent to time-out, there isn’t anything else you should tell them before the time-out is finished. Making things boring for them also means that they shouldn’t be allowed to bring their toy along or play a game on their phone.

Time the time-out

How long should a time-out for toddler be? For toddlers and preschoolers, it doesn’t need to be longer than five minutes, even though you’ll learn that even two minutes is sometimes enough. A rule of thumb is to give them a minute of time-out for every year of their age, but your child should be quiet before they are allowed to leave the place. As they age, you can even let them time their own time-out, as focusing on the remaining time will help them stay calm.

When the time-out ends

Measuring time is a good way to go, but your child should learn something from this discipline technique. They should understand what you want from them, so make sure you state your rules clearly and if they sill break them after being in time-out, send them back in. Remind them of the family rules: “Keep your hands to yourself” or “Don’t hit your siblings”. Keep reminding them of the behavior you expect from them. In addition, the children should also follow your direction even after they finish the time-out, and if they keep refusing to listen to you, you’ll have to send them back to time-out until they do.

Time-out for toys

This is a useful trick for parents who don’t want to try limiting time-out for kids, but who still want to discipline them. If you notice that your children are fighting over a specific toy, you can take the toy from them and put it in time-out instead of your children. It might come as a surprise from them, but it will keep them quiet for a while, and it will give you some time to help them come to an agreement about the toy. Also, if you see that the child is mishandling a toy, send the toy to time-out. If you choose to do this when the time-out is over carefully explain to your child why you sent the toy to time-out and ask them to explain it to the toy. It will teach them about self-control, and you will still handle their bad behavior without sending them to time-out too often.

Image of sad girl crying

The right time for time-outs

Contrary to popular belief, time-outs don’t work the same on all children, and you shouldn’t use them too often. It’s best to use them on young children who deliberately disobey parents, do the opposite of what you asked them, and hit others even after being asked not to. Even then, you should first try using some milder responses, and only resort to time-outs as a last resort. In addition, you shouldn’t keep putting your child in a time-out when you face different types of problems. If you do it too often and for oppositional defiance, the children’s behavior might actually get much worse. Toddlers who whine about having to eat mashed potatoes instead of French fries and preschoolers who desperately want to negotiate more iPad or TV time don’t need to be sent to time-outs.

Giving them a choice

If the child is a bit older and they refuse to go to time-out, you can always give them a choice. They can either cooperate or lose a privilege, and if they still don’t want to take a time-out, you can say “Ok, then you aren’t playing with your iPad” and just walk away. Privileges are important to them, and the lost privilege might sting even more than some time spent sitting alone and being quiet. You can also decide to take time-out instead of them: “I will not talk to you for three minutes because you keep hitting your sister”.

When-then statements

You already know that children react best when you give them clear instructions, so try to change the way you formulate your requests. Instead of telling them: “You can watch the TV, but only if you eat all of your vegetables”, you could try putting it in fewer words: “When you finish your veggies, you can go watch TV”. This way, they will be more motivated to listen to you, and you can get them to cooperate more easily because they understand what you ask of them.

Praising them

Remember that being a parent isn’t always about disciplining your children. They should learn how to act, they should learn which values to uphold as they grow, and disciplining them for bad behavior isn’t the only way you can achieve this. When they have been in a time-out zone for a while, make sure you praise the next positive thing they do afterwards. When you praise and encourage their good behavior, you’re giving them something positive to focus on, and they will try to do the things that make you happy in the future.

This is a popular discipline technique because it allows the parents to teach their children a lesson without having to physically punish them. On the other hand, if you don’t plan your time-outs carefully and if you aren’t consistent, it might do more damage than good in the long run. Instead of making the situation worse, do a bit of research and always try to give a clean explanation to your children. Don’t back down and be patient, because it might take a while until both you and your child learn the right way to handle time-outs.

Author: Catherine Evans
Author: Catherine Evans

Catherine is a writer from Canada who simply loves toys, collectibles and superhero figurines. Writing is her passion, but she also loves reading, enjoying her “me time” and finding new ways to improve her work and ways to entertain the readers.

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