How to Make Time-Out an Effective Discipline Strategy

Best Practices for Time Out

How to make time-out most effective.
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When your child is behaving, time-out may seem like it's more effort than it's worth. A misbehaving child isn't likely to sit quietly in time-out if he's not used to it. But, removing him from a stimulating environment can be an effective behavior modification technique.

The ultimate goal of time-out should be for kids to learn how to take a self-time out before they get in trouble. But many parents aren't using time-out effectively.

Here's how to make your child's time-outs an effective way to change his behavior.

Explain the Time-Out Process to Your Child

If you’re introducing time-out to your child for the first time or you’re changing the time-out process, explain it to your child ahead of time. Tell him where he'll serve the time-out, how long he'll be there, and your expectations. 

Say, "When you break the rules, I'm going to send you to your room for a five minute time-out. The timer won't start until you're quiet. I'll tell you when you can come out of your room." 

Give Your Child Lots of Time-In

Time-out should be a time out from positive reinforcement and attention. So it will only work if your child gets plenty of time-in.

Give your child a few minutes of your undivided attention every day. Play a game, go for a walk, or engage in some pretend play for a few minutes. Silence your smartphone during your time together to show your child that you value your time together.


Use Time-Out Sparingly

Time-out loses effectiveness when used too often. If you placing your child in time-out multiple times throughout the day, your child will stop responding to it.

After your child has already served two time-outs in the same day, you may want to tell her that for the rest of the day, broken rules will lead to loss of privileges.

Then, take away her electronics or one of her favorite toys instead of placing her in time-out. 

Offer One Warning

Certain behaviors should result in an automatic time-out. Physical aggression or major rule violations should should lead to an automatic consequence. Minor behavior problems, such as talking back or being loud, should be addressed with a warning. .

If you tell your child to stop climbing on the furniture and he doesn’t listen, warn him that you’ll place him in time-out if the behavior doesn’t change. Use an if…then statement, such as, "If you don't stop climbing on the furniture, then you'll have to go to time-out." 

Follow Through With a Consequence

Don’t offer repeated warnings or keep giving your child second chances. Also, don’t forgo time out if your child whines or pleads with you that he’ll change his behavior. Show him that you're serious about following through with a consequence.

Use a Consistent Time-Out Space

Whether you choose to use your child’s bedroom, a chair, or another section of your house, keep the time-out space consistent. When your child knows where to go and what to do, he'll be better equipped to serve his time-out.

Prepare ahead for the possibility of giving your child a time-out in a public space, like the grocery store.

Use a bench at the front of a store or have your child serve time-out in the car, if necessary.

Have a Back Up Plan

Avoid a power struggle with your child if he refuses time out. Don’t argue, yell or try to force your child to go. Instead, make it clear that a refusal to go to time out will result in a more serious consequence.

Offer one warning about what the consequence will be if he doesn’t go to time-out. Say, “If you don’t go to time out now, you’ll lose your electronics for the next 24 hours.”

If your child still refuses to go to time-out, follow through with the alternative negative consequence.

Then, next time he has the option to serve a time-out, he may choose to go rather than receive the more serious consequence.


Chorpita BF, Weisz JR. Match-ADTC: modular approach to therapy for children with anxiety, depression, trauma, or conduct problems. Satellite Beach, FL: PracticeWise; 2009.

Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: parents, teachers, and children's training series: program content, methods, research and dissemination 1980-2011. Seattle, WA: Incredible Years; 2011.

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