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Time out works best when you use it sparingly along with lots of praise for positive behaviour.

Time out is when you do not give your child attention for a short period of time. Your child is taken away from things that are fun. They cannot talk to their parents or anyone else. Time out should be boring.

Sometimes it may be you that needs time out as a chance to clam down while your child is in a safe place.

What works

  • Time out works best when you use it with lots of praise for good behaviour.
  • Time out works for children over 3 years old. For toddlers, it is best to try distraction and redirection instead.
  • Time out should be used sparingly for behaviours that can’t be ignored. Depending on the behaviour, it may be more suitable to give a consequence, like removing an activity or toy your child likes.
  • It’s best to work on changing one behaviour at a time. Think about what behaviour you would like to change – for example, hitting. When this behaviour is no longer a problem, you could work on another behaviour.
  • Talk about it with your child. It’s a good idea to talk to your child before using time out, when they are happy.  Explain which behaviour will lead to a time out and what will happen when they get a time out. It’s best to have this talk when you’re both feeling calm.
  • Give time out straight after the unwanted behaviour. It will help your child remember what they did that you did not like.
  • Make sure it is safe and not frightening for your child. Time out doesn't mean taking your child to a different room. For young children you can use a mat or chair in the corner of a room. Make sure it is not somewhere near toys, TV or other activities that will entertain your child.
  • Stay calm and try not to get angry. If you find yourself getting stressed, try taking a few deep breaths to help you relax. When your child is in time out, try to do what you normally do. Stay close enough to know if your child is doing anything dangerous. Don't talk to your child or give them any other attention. If your child tries to leave the time out area before time is up calmly take them back but don’t talk to them as you have already explained why they are there. Repeat as necessary.
  • Time out works best for short periods. One minute for each year of your child's age is enough. It should be a maximum of five minutes. You could set a timer to help you keep track of the time. You could place the timer where your child can see/hear it so they know that they mustn’t move until the alarm has gone off.
  • Use time out the same way every time. Time out works best when your child knows what to expect. Your child needs to know that if they behave in an unacceptable way, they’ll always get time out. It’s best if everyone close to your child uses time out in the same way for the same behaviour. If you are out of the house and you need to use a time out make sure you use a safe area and stay close to your child, you could use the buggy or car seat for safety.
  • When it's over, it's over. Start a new game or activity. Praise the next good thing your child does.

What doesn’t work

  • Time out doesn't work for children under 3 years old as they are not developmentally ready.
  • Never hold your child down in time out or use force to make them stay there. Stay calm and try not to get angry.
  • Never leave your child somewhere that isn’t safe.
  • Time out doesn't work if you use it too often or for too long. Try to give your child lots of praise and attention when they are behaving well. Without praise and attention for good behaviour, time out loses its usefulness.
  • Time out may not be suitable for some children with additional needs. Depending on your child’s needs there are a range of different professionals you could talk to about ways to manage your child’s behaviour. Visit the Contact website for information and further sources of support.

If you give your child attention for behaviour you want to see more of and you regularly praise and encourage them for doing it, they’re less likely to do things that require time-out.