Taking 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. Here are best practices for using time-out to take control:

  • Keep your child in time-out for one minute per year of age. If your child is 4 years old, they 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, calmly tell them what they how hitting is unacceptable and explain that they will have a time-out. You might say, "You hit Henry, and that's not allowed. Hitting hurts. You need a five-minute time-out to calm down and get control of yourself." Time-outs should be used to help children regain self-control, not as a punishment. Instead of grabbing your child and yelling at them to stop what they’re doing, calmly remove them from the situation and let them learn from their misbehavior.
  • Take your child 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 them. Try to use the same place each time. You might have them 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 them. It's OK to sit with them if that helps them 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 they hit someone before the time-out, have them apologize. There is no need to lecture your child at that point. They knows what they did wrong. After time-out, praise your child for regaining control. If they behave well afterward, tell them how nicely they are playing. That positive reinforcement will help them 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 them, and remember to maintain your composure.
  • Try not to use time-out too often, or it will lose its impact.

Remember: 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, 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.


The UPMC Healthbeat blog features several articles by pediatric experts where you can learn more about building positive relationships with your children, including:

UPMC also offers several parenting workshops, both virtual and in-person in the Pittsburgh area. A list of current classes and workshops can be found on this page.