Time Out for Kids: How to Make it Meaningful and Effective


  1. What age is appropriate for time-out?
  2. What is a time-out for a child?
  3. Is time-out an effective form of discipline?
  4. Why is time-out good for kids?


Regardless of the type of parent you are, from time to time the tiredness, stress and struggles of bringing up kids gets to you. This is exactly when your little (or not-so-little!) one decides they’re going to make the situation worse! Before you know it, you’ve shouted at them for having a tantrum, swearing at you or any of the many other ways they can overstep boundaries! 👿 

This is where time out for kids can be an effective tool. They need a moment to consider what they’ve done and think about the consequences of their actions. But a surprising percentage of parents are giving time out for kids in the wrong way. Can you guess what that percentage is? Read on to find out!


What age is appropriate for time-out?


As you know, parenting is a job you never have prior training for. For this reason, it’s good to do a bit of research as and when issues arise. You’re probably aware that the sort of timeouts for toddlers are going to have no impact on a defiant and difficult teenager. For this reason, it’s important that your time out step, time out room or time out corner is used in an age-appropriate way! 

The general rule of thumb for a time out punishment for toddlers, preschoolers and lower primary school kids is a minute for each year of life 👇


Time out


2 minutes


3 minutes


4 minutes


5 minutes

Of course, this can be adapted: some parents double the time for the severity of the crime! For example, a time-out for 2-year-old who has hit someone or broken something deliberately can increase to four minutes. Conversely, if staying still is more difficult because of ADHD or similar, the timeout kids spend on a step or in a room can be shortened.

It seems, time out children tend to be younger children. When they’re older, bad behaviour caused by things like sibling rivalry, school failure or spending too much time online is more of a challenge. Asking someone who may well be bigger and stronger than you to sit on a time out step is unrealistic and hopeful at best!

But the good news is, there are some things you can do such as removing privileges like screen time, meeting friends and staying up late. The NHS website has some great ways to cope with your teen, and we suggest you look at some other effective techniques for discipline. 💪


What is a time-out for a child?


Let’s start with a bit of history. In the late 1950s, Arthur Staats, a behavioural psychologist, was the first to turn what had been a random way to discipline children into an effective staple of behavioural psychology: He believed that the time-out technique was more effective behaviour management than spanking or shouting. Having carried out a number of experiments, he concluded that removing a child from the scene of bad behaviour would give them an emotional connection with self-control. As a bonus, parents would get a short break too. Win-win! 🏆

So what exactly is time out? According to greenwood paediatrics, time out is: 

“Putting a child in a boring place for a few minutes to correct misbehaviour…It teaches a child to stop and think. It provides time to calm down and regain control of the emotions. Sometimes, it also helps the parent calm down.”


Is time-out an effective form of discipline?


According to recent research by the University of Michigan, yes. Although it seems key to the effectiveness of time out for kids is how it is used. Remember we asked you to think of the percentage of parents using the time-out technique wrongly? How many of you guessed 85%. It’s a pretty big number, isn’t it? 

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts for you to follow:

Dos ✅

Don’ts ❎

Talk to your child on their own. They shouldn’t be made to feel shame or embarrassment in front of others.

Give your child attention or talk to them when they’re having their time out.

Try to stay calm - we know it’s hard, but do try!

Give them too many warnings.

Use time out sparingly. It will just lose its effectiveness if your child spends half the day in the time out corner.

Let them play: Time out should be boring without distractions.

Be consistent and fair. This way your child will learn the boundaries and the behaviour you won’t accept.

Use time out to punish because you are angry: it should primarily be a learning opportunity.

Move on after their time out. Try to start afresh. They are still learning so don’t need to be reminded of the times when they didn’t behave in an acceptable way.

Keep them in time out for too long. The purpose is to let them regulate their emotions or calm down. Once this has happened, even if it is less than the recommended time, they should be free to go.

And it’s worth remembering, timeout for toddlers, time-out for 2-year-old, in fact, time out punishment for any age group should follow a five-stage process according to CDC:  

  • Step 1: Check the behaviour of your child and give them a warning. For example, you ask your child to tidy away their toys and they refuse. You say, ‘You’ll go to the time out step if you don’t tidy up.’ Then wait. If they still refuse, proceed to step 2. If they oblige, praise them.
  • Step 2: Explain why they are going to the time out step. Say it firmly but fairly and only once. They don’t need to be lectured or shouted at and you shouldn’t engage in a conversation no matter how persistent they are!
  • Step 3: Your child sits on the time out step. Yes, we know, even this is easier said than done, especially if they’re having a tantrum or if they’re overtired! Lead them by the hand or carry them if they’re small enough. If they still try to move away, return them to the step without talking until they understand what is expected of them.
  • Step 4: End time out for kids. You may choose to remind them why they had time out briefly. For example, ‘Remember our rule. You need to clear up after you’ve played with toys.’ If they still refuse to tidy up, time out should be repeated. If they tidy up, continue to stage 5.
  • Step 5:  Praise your child for the next positive thing they do. You can do this verbally, or however you usually reward your child whether it be a star chart ⭐or pocket money.

Why is time-out good for kids?


There are many reasons why time out for kids is a good discipline option:

  1. It cuts out a lot of arguing and yelling
  2. It establishes behaviour that won’t be tolerated
  3. It teaches children about boundaries and consequences
  4. It increases the chances that parents will be consistent in their punishments
  5. It promotes self-control in a child
  6. It helps a child understand how to take responsibility

Finally, you may choose to keep a record of how often you’re doing time out for kids. It can be rewarding for parents to see the time outs reduce as the behaviour improves. And as the behaviour improves, your job gets easier! Another win-win! You’ve got this! 😇

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