My Child
Setting Limits: Time Outs

For many years, a popular way of disciplining a child has been to use a "Time Out." This meant that the child was set in a corner or sent to his room or another part of the house for a short time to calm down, be punished and be sent away from the situation that triggered the behaviour.

This method of discipline is certainly a big improvement over physical punishment, but now experts are realizing that Time Outs can be seriously misused, especially if they're used in almost all discipline situations.

In any situation when you need to discipline your child, it's important to first find out why your child is misbehaving. Once this is established, you can decide whether a Time Out is the right approach. Remember that the goal of discipline is to teach your child how to - and how not to - behave.

A Time Out works best if it's used before the situation gets out of control, to break the cycle of everyone getting angrier and angrier. At those times, don't get into arguments, or discuss or justify the Time Out. Instead, just announce, "We need to take a Time Out here." Then both of you sit quietly, or count to ten. In fact, keeping a young child sitting quietly near you is a great way of using the Time Out while still making sure that he is safe. Then, when it's over, talk to your child about what happened and why you handled the situation that way.

If your child is upset and out of control it's best to stay quietly with her and try to help her calm down. Try to talk about your feelings, your child's feelings and the situation. At those times, if you send your child away for a Time Out, she may feel rejected and abandoned, just when she needs you the most.

If you are upset and out-of-control, you may need a Time Out for yourself. You may need to be by yourself to do this. Ensure your child is safely looked after, and then give yourself some time and space to calm down.

If your child is not out of control, but is misbehaving because he is willfully trying to get his own way, a Time Out may be a good strategy. It gives the message that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable.

If you are going to use a Time Out, here's what you should remember:

  • Don't begin using Time Outs until your child is about two years old.

  • Just a few minutes is enough time to make your point. Children don't like to be out of the mainstream.

  • Don't use Time Outs very often.

  • Never confine a child in a place he is afraid of, like a dark closet.

If you find that you are using Time Outs almost automatically any time your child annoys you, there's a problem. Review each recent situation where you used a Time Out. Try to figure out why your child is misbehaving, and think of a very appropriate strategy to curb the behaviour you are trying to stop. Then be prepared to do it the next time the situation arises.

You might also consider whether your standards are too high, or if there are other things bothering you that are spilling over into your relationship with your child. Check the What to Expect section for your child's age on this website, and with other parents or your childcare provider. They can help you assess your situation.