Why I Believe in Time Outs and How to Use Them

Updated on September 21, 2017
ForLoveofCupcakes profile image

Jamie is a former kindergarten/pre-k teacher and is currently a preschool teacher.

DIY Timeout Chair

One of my coworkers painted this stool to be my timeout chair and I absolutely loved it.
One of my coworkers painted this stool to be my timeout chair and I absolutely loved it.

Effective and Kind Discipline

Do you need a new discipline system—one that your children will listen to and that will work, but you don't want to be too harsh? Believe it or not, time outs work very well and will keep your child's dignity in tact. I'm going to tell you why it works and how to implement it. I was a kindergarten / pre-k teacher. Now, I am a daycare teacher and a mom, so I have experience and expertise to back up what I'm about to claim. I have also done a good amount of research on the subject and highly recommend the book 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Thomas W. Phelan.

The Case for Time Outs

Kids need consequences for bad behavior and they need boundaries. At the same time, you should not (in my opinion) strip a child of his or her dignity, or use humiliation as a punishment. Also, no one should ever use violence toward a child. There is absolutely no excuse for that.

As parents, one of our jobs is to form our children into responsible and kind adult citizens. We can do this in a kind and loving way. Some people think time outs are too harsh, but why? It's just three minutes. I think screaming at your kid and expecting them to explain back to you what they did wrong or humiliating them in front of the class is harsh. We can avoid all that. Plus, once the children get the hang of time outs (and see that you're serious and consistent about the procedure, they will ideally stop doing what gets them in trouble).

The daycare I work at now allows time outs (thank God!), but the daycare I used to work at didn't. My former boss doesn't think kids understand time outs. I'm here to tell you they really really do. Kids (especially young kids) understand quick consequences to bad behavior. This will get them to alter their actions. What they don't understand is long, drawn out lectures on what they did wrong. Something unpleasant (time out, being away from their toys / friends / siblings) needs to happen to make them want to stop. If the child is able to go back to playing right away, what stops them from doing the behavior again? I can tell you after being in that kind of environment for about a year: Nothing. Nothing stops them. I had no authority in that classroom. I wouldn't even want my kid going to a daycare center that didn't allow time outs because I want her teacher to have authority and I want kids with bad behaviors to have consequences.

One of my favorite things about this time out system is the opportunity for forgiveness. Once the three minutes are over, the child gets out of time out and gets a fresh start, a clean slate. You don't have to be angry any more and neither does he or she. The child has served the time (so to speak) and now gets to go back to playing. In other discipline systems, like putting a kids name on the board or moving them to "red", there is little or no room for redemption and that is a consequence the child has to live with for the rest of the day.

This system works and it doesn't create hostility between parent and child or teacher and student.

Before Giving Any Timeouts . . .

Is There Something Else that Fits Better?

In many cases, giving a time out doesn't make sense with the situation. For example, if two of your kids keep getting into little arguments or battles over toys, you might try separating them for a little bit instead of giving time outs. Or you could take away the toy that is causing the problem. In this case and similar ones, you should use what's referred to as natural consequences. Just do what seems natural to mediate.

You could also use redirection. Have the child(ren) simply go play somewhere else. I use time outs for more serious matters or in situations that don't have an easy natural consequence / redirecting won't help.

You Must Teach the Procedure!

As Harry Wong emphasizes in The First Days of School, teaching the procedure is key. "Procedure. Procedure. Procedure." (Wong.)

Have a family meeting (or if in a classroom environment, use circle time or a similar event) and explain time outs. Tell your children what time outs are: the child will sit in a designated spot / chair for 3 minutes without talking or playing. I do 3 minutes, some other people correspond the amount of minutes to the amount of years old (a five year old would sit for 5 minutes, for example). Have a discussion about what actions would lead to a time out. Ask the kids what behaviors would lead to a time out. They might surprise you, knowing exactly what lands them in trouble! Some examples I use in my classroom include: saying something inappropriate or mean, not following directions, running in the room. Displaying these rules is a great idea so the children can have a reminder if needed.

BUT before they end up in time out, they have an opportunity to right their ways and get out of it. Teach the kids that they will get 2 warnings to STOP what they are doing wrong. I tell my students, "If I say 'That's 1', you need to stop what you're doing wrong. If I say 'That's 2', you really need to stop because if I get to 'That's 3', you have to sit in time out." I then have the children repeat the procedure back to me and I go over it every day for a couple of weeks to make sure they understand. We even do some role-playing. Kids love volunteering to role-play! We practice the procedure to really drive it home.

There are some actions that land a child straight in time out and you need to go over these so the kids know there will be no warnings. Hitting, pushing or throwing toys are straight-to-time out offenses. (And more serious bouts of violence may require more serious consequences like a call home or visit to the principal's office at school, or a much longer time out at home.)

How to Implement Time Outs

Count the child 1, 2, 3. If he or she stops doing the action before you get to 3, great! If not, tell them in a concise phrase why they're going to time out and send them to the designated spot. If you want, set an egg timer to three minutes, otherwise, keep an eye on the clock. Be stern, but don't yell. You don't have to get all angry and emotional. In fact, reacting that way could unravel the whole system.

When the time is up, tell the child to go back and play, and don't sound or act angry. Remember, the child is now forgiven. Also, don't lecture the student on what he or she did wrong; just let the kid go.

Also, and I can't stress this enough, BE CONSISTENT! I know I said teaching the procedure is key, but so is consistency. If you hesitate, if you don't follow through, the system can crumble. I see a lot of teachers say "That's 1, That's 2. You better stop or you're going to get a time out! Come here! Stop that!..." etc etc. DO NOT DO THAT! Count to 3 and put them in time out. Be consistent. It won't work if you aren't.

Good luck!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wehavekids.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)