Time-Out Guidelines

By North Carolina ABCD Project
Reprinted from Pediatrics Development and Behavior OnlineOpens External Link

Time-out involves placing a child on a chair for a short period of time following an occurrence of unacceptable behavior. This has been effective in reducing such problem behavior as tantrums, hitting, biting, failure to follow directions, leaving the yard without permission and others. Adults have found that time-out works better than spanking, yelling or threatening the child. It is appropriate for children from 18 months through 10 years.

Getting Started

  • Use a small, portable kitchen timer.
  • Choose a place for time-out; a chair in the hallway, kitchen or corner of a room. Pick a dull place where the child cannot view TV, play with toys or interact with other children. The aim is to remove the child to a place where not much is happening -not to frighten the child.
  • The whole family should read and know the rules." Consistency is very important!


  • Before using time-out, try it with your child at a pleasant time.
  • Tell the child there are two rules when in time-out:
    1. He must sit quietly in the time-out chair. The timer will not start until he is quiet. Ask the child what will happen if he makes noise while in time-out. The child should say that the timer will be reset or something similar. If he does not say this, remind the child of the rule.
    2. He must not get off the chair before the timer rings. If he does, place him back in the chair and explain that time will be added every time he gets off the chair.
  • Check your child's understanding of the rules.
  • Tell your child that you will be using time-out instead of spanking, yelling or threatening. Most children are pleased to learn this.

How to Use Time-Out

  • When your child misbehaves, describe the inappropriate behavior. For example, "You didn't use nice touches. Go to time-out please." Say this calmly and only once. Do not lose your temper or begin nagging.
  • Tell the child what you want, not what you don't want. If the child has problems getting to the chair quickly, either lead him part of the way or carry him to the chair. Be sure to hold the child facing away from you so that he does not confuse a hug with a trip to time-out.
  • Do not touch a child who is very upset without letting the child know your intention first, i.e., "Do you need help getting to the time-out chair?"
  • When the child is on the chair, set the timer for a specific number of minutes. The rule of thumb is 1 minute for each year of age up to 5 minutes. A 2 year old would have 2 minutes, a 3-year old 3 minutes, etc. If the child gets off the chair before the time is up, reset the timer. Do this each time the child gets off the chair.
  • When your child doesn't regain self-control, remind him that he must show self-control in order to get up.
  • Reset the timer for 1 minute.
  • Check back with the child at the end of 1 minute and praise him for gaining self-control.
  • When the timer rings, go to the time-out chair and ask the child if he would like to get up.
  • Do not speak from across the room. The child should acknowledge with a nod of the head or a positive answer. Answering in an angry tone of voice or refusing to answer is not acceptable. If the child is still angry, he will probably get into trouble again in a short period of time. When the child answers in an angry tone or refuses to answer, reset the timer. The child may then answer appropriately, but once the timer is reset it must go the full amount of time.
  • You are the one who decides when the child gets off the time-out chair, not the child.
  • As soon as the child is off the time-out chair, repeat the action you want, i.e., "Remember to use nice touches." Briefly monitor the child's behavior, then allow independent behavior.

After the child finishes a time-out period, he should start with a "clean slate".

Do not discuss, remind or nag about what the child did wrong. Within 5 minutes of the time-out, look for and praise good behavior. It would be wise to take the child to a different part of the house or room, and start him on a new activity.

Remember - "Catch your child being good."

Family Rules


  • Decide, in advance, when you will use time-out.
  • Do not leave the child in time-out and forget about him.
  • Do not nag, scold or talk to a child while he is in time-out. All family members should follow this rule!
  • Remain calm, particularly when a child is being testy.


  • Go immediately to time-out when you are asked to. Do not argue!
  • Remain quiet and stay on the time-out chair until you are asked to get down. You will spend less time that way.
  • The timer is not to be touched by any child.

Brothers and Sisters

  • If you tease, laugh at or talk to the person while they are in time-out, you will be placed in the time-out chair, and your brother or sister will be able to get down.

Things to Remember When Using Time-Out

  • Do not threaten your child with the time-out chair. You will only teach him that he can continue to misbehave before you will use time-out. If you say it, do it.
  • All adults who are responsible for disciplining a child should be using the time-out chair. Agree on when and for what behaviors to send a child to time-out. (You will want new sitters, visiting friends, and relatives to read and discuss the time-out guidelines.)
  • To make time-out really work, make the rest of the day (time-in) pleasant for the child. Always let your child know when he is well behaved. "Catch your child being good!". Don't take good behavior for granted. Most children will prefer time-out rather than to be ignored completely.
  • The child may say, "Going to the chair doesn't bother me," or "I like time-out. Don't fall for this trick! You should notice over time that the problem behaviors occur less often. (Time-out is not supposed to be a miserable experience.)
  • When you first begin using time-out, a child may act like it's a game. He may put himself in time-out or even ask to go to time-out. When this happens, put the child in time-out and require the child to sit quietly for the required amount of time. The child will soon learn that time-out is not a game. He may also laugh, giggle, curse or spit when going to time-out or while in time-out. Although this may aggravate you,it is very important to completely ignore a child while he is in time-out. This will teach a child that such "attention getting" behavior will not work.
  • Minimize distractions. Television, radio or a nice view out the window, can make time-out more tolerable but will increase the length of time the child must stay in the chair.
  • Use time-out for big as well as small behavioral problems. Adults have a tendency to feel that time-out is not enough punishment for big things and thereby discipline inconsistently. "Time-out will work for small and big problems. Consistency is the key.
  • Be clear about the rules. Adults often establish a new rule (e.g., "Don't touch the new stereo.") without telling the children. State the rule and what will happen if it is broken, "Don't touch the stereo. You will go to time-out if you touch the stereo." Without this information, when the child breaks the rule he may be confused about why he is is being put in time-out.
  • Review the time-out guidelines to make certain you are following the recommendations.

When Your Child is in Time-Out

  • Do remain calm.
  • Do follow the written guidelines.
  • Do find something to do (read a magazine, watch television, listen to the stereo) when the child is crying or talking loudly while in time-out.
  • Don't look at him. Don't talk to him or her. Don't talk about him. Don't act angry. Don't stay in the room if possible.