Patients and Families

Take Control With Time-Out

Many parents put their children in time-out to stop their bad behavior. Time-out enables parents to discipline their kids without hitting or yelling. By remaining calm, you set a positive example for your children to manage their own strong feelings. Time-outs give children a chance to separate and calm down. Use this discipline method for big problems like hitting, kicking and out-of-control screaming-or when all else fails. Try not to use it too often, or it will lose its impact.

Keep your child in time-out for one minute per year of age. If your child is 4 years old, she would sit in time-out for four minutes. This method works best for children between 3 and 10 years old. Use a timer to keep track of the minutes, or just keep an eye on the clock.

If your child hits someone, give her a time-out to let her know hitting is unacceptable. Time-outs should be used to help children regain self-control, not as a punishment. Instead of grabbing your child and yelling at her to stop what she's doing, remove her calmly from the situation and let her learn from her misbehavior.

If your child misbehaves, calmly tell her what she did wrong and explain that she will have a time-out. You might say, "You hit Al, and that's not allowed. Hitting hurts. You need a five-minute time-out to calm down and get control of yourself."

Take her to a quiet place to sit down. It's best to use a neutral place, where there are no distractions and you can keep an eye on her. Try to use the same place each time. You might have her sit on a chair in the hallway or on the last step of a staircase.

Tell your child, "Time-out begins when you are quiet. You need to stay here until you calm down." Don't argue with her. It's OK to sit with her if that helps her gain control, but there should be no talking or interaction during time-out. If there is, start the time-out over again.

Once time is up, let your child go back to what she was doing. If she hit someone before the time-out, have her apologize. There is no need to lecture your child at that point-she knows what she did wrong. After time-out, praise your child for regaining control. If she behaves well afterward, tell her how nicely she is playing. That positive reinforcement will help her learn proper behavior.

If your child misbehaves in public, use time-out just as you would at home. Find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to seat your child. Stay nearby to keep an eye on her, and remember to maintain your composure.

Time-out also can be useful for parents who need to calm down. It doesn't hurt to step back from a heated situation before responding.

Through time-out, your children learn to gain self-control, and you get a break as well. Separating your child from a bad situation stops the undesired behavior, and it gives you an opportunity to calm down and redirect your child. You'll both feel better and will be more prepared to return to the action at hand.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC offers Positive Parenting classes and other parenting workshops. For more information, call the Community Education Department at 412-692-7105. Current classes are listed on this Web site.

Last Update
September 11, 2008
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Last Update
September 11, 2008
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