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Time Out as a Behavior Management Technique

Time out involves physically removing a child from a situation that is dangerous and/or a situation where the child is exhibiting behavior that is not acceptable. The purpose of time out is to allow the child to reestablish self-control, to end unacceptable behavior, and to provide an opportunity to think about behavior and its impact.

Time out is not punishment. It is simply providing the child an opportunity to regain control of his or her behavior. You are helping in that process by removing the child from the situation or the stimulation that brought about the loss of control. If you are angry or yelling, it is doubtful that the time out will be effective. Some basic guidelines for using time out include:

Take time to gain your composure and self-control.

  1. Give the child an opportunity to change the behavior.
  2. If this effort fails, tell the child where to go for a time out.
  3. Select a quiet and safe time out area away form other stimuli.
  4. Tell the child how long the time out will be, but explain that you will only begin timing when the child becomes quiet.
  5. Ignore the child's behavior while in time out.
  6. Focus the child on a positive activity after the time out.

Do time outs in a firm, matter-of-fact way. As with other forms of discipline, consistency and repetition are crucial. If you find yourself using time out very often, you need to reexamine your expectations. Maybe they are unrealistic for a child that age. Time out should be used sparingly or it will cease to be effective. If you decide to use it, select a single behavior and use it for that behavior.

Time out can be an effective tool for anyone feeling overwhelmed or angry. But, we know it will not be an effective tool with a child if it is used in anger. There will always be situations where you find yourself overwhelmed with feelings. It may be helpful to you to think about whether you need to give a time out to the child, or take a time out for yourself.

Content used with permission from the Child Welfare League of America,

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This content was last modified on: 09/08/2008

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