Common Mistakes with Time-Out and How to Fix Them

Contributed by Dr. Shubha Adeni

Your child is throwing sand at the playground again... or kicking her siblings, or doing something you told them not to do. If your child is behaving in an unacceptable way, the popular "time-out" is an effective form of discipline. But if you don't use it right, it won't work! Time-out works best when you use it with other approaches such as praise. Next time you discipline your child, make sure you are not making any of these five common time-out mistakes:

Mistake #1: As a parent you didn't see that tantrum coming.
Solution: Think ahead before doing an activity with your child. Think about what situation might cause a tantrum and avoid it by talking to your child before the tantrum happens. For example, before you go into the store, talk to your child and set limits. You can say, "We're going to the store, but that doesn't mean I'm going to buy you toys, ok?"
Mistake #2: You have too many "no" rules.
Solution: Only use "no" when it's absolutely necessary, like if something your child is doing is threatening to them or others. Remember, time-outs are not as effective when overused. Decide on what is important at the time and set simple rules your child can follow.
Mistake #3: You are using time-out as a threat.
Solution: Let's say you are at the grocery store and your toddler is pulling bottles from the shelves. Saying "If you do that, I'm going to put you on time-out when we get home," is not effective. Instead, take your child away from the environment to a quiet place and talk to your child.
Mistake #4: Scolding your child during and after a time-out.
Solution: Time-out is supposed to be a quiet time. Give your child time to sit quietly and think of what they did wrong. Do not scold or lecture when your child is in time-out. When your child steps out of time-out, allow them to rejoin the activity they were doing before time-out.
Mistake #5: You do not know when or how to end time-out.
Solution: Time-out should be no longer than one minute per age of child.  So, a 2-year-old would get two minutes of time-out while a 4-year-old would get four minutes. For a time-out to be effective, remember to end your child's time-out as soon as the time is up. You can say something like, "You're done with time-out. You can get up now. Remember what I said - no hitting, ok?" Also, don't give your child only negative attention... give them positive attention too, such as praise.

Shubha Adeni, M.D.About the Expert: Shubha Adeni, M.D., is a pediatrician and mother of three children who has been practicing in the Austin area since 2001. She recommends the book Your Child's Health: The Parents' One-Stop Reference Guide by Barton D. Schmitt.