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Time-in or Time-out?

Using effective discipline (teaching/guiding) tools requires you to be tuned in to the unique temperament of your child.

Time-in is intended for a child who is having trouble regulating his behavior and may need support calming down. Once a child is calm, he or she can learn the necessary skill to think through a situation and consider appropriate ways to get his needs met.

Time-out is designed to offer a consistent and logical consequence for purposeful misbehavior. When a child is at risk of hurting himself, another person or the environment, time-out is an appropriate logical consequence. The intention of time-out is to reinforce that safety is important and to affirm that the limits and boundaries in place keep everyone in the family safe, including the child who is misbehaving.

Guidelines for time-in:

Time-in means supporting a child while he learns to regulate his behavior and calm himself down. Time-in can be used with children of all ages, from toddler to teen. It can be very effective with young children, because children age 4 and under are not purposefully misbehaving. Developing infants and toddlers do not understand right from wrong and are not able to control their impulses. Young children and children with special needs may be overwhelmed by the sensory environment or frustrated when they cannot do an activity.

Time-in can also be very useful with older children who are feeling stressed, out of control or anxious about a particular situation. When stressed, a child may react defensively or have difficulty thinking through the consequences of his actions. Allowing a child time-in to calm down will provide an opportunity to re-focus, feel safe and make better choices.

Steps for time-in:

  1. Identify a strategy for calming and comforting your child. Each child is unique. Some may respond to a safe space; others may want to sit on a parent’s lap or just have a parent or guardian nearby.
  2. Stay calm and regulate your own stress by taking deep breaths.
  3. Assure the child that she is safe and is capable of calming herself.
  4. Recognize all attempts to self-soothe. For example, “I like the way you are taking deep breaths.”
  5. When the child is calm, discuss the situation that was upsetting and work through a problem-solving strategy.
  6. Ask the child to identify what he could do differently the next time he gets mad or frustrated. For example, “Hitting hurts. I wonder what you could do to let your friend know you want a turn with the toy.” Explore viable options and reinforce positive choices when you see them.

Guidelines for time-out:

Time-out means removing a child from an activity because of purposeful misbehavior, and having her sit in a quiet, non-stimulating place for a brief period of time.

Time-outs can be used with pre-school or school-age children as a logical consequence for choosing to break a rule. Time-out is only useful if a child understands what behavior is expected when returning to the prior activity, is able to problem-solve, and can cope with the emotions that prompted the misbehavior in the first place.

Steps for time-out:

  1. In the home, choose a consistent time-out place that is quiet and non-stimulating. (If time-out is necessary when away from home, choose a quiet, non-stimulating place.)
  2. Establish consistent rules that will warrant a time-out if broken, e.g., hitting.
  3. Use a reminder if a child breaks the rule. For example, “Stop! I will not let you hurt yourself or someone else. Use your words to tell me what you are mad about.”
  4. Offer a choice. “If you hit your brother, you will need to take a time-out. If you keep your hands to yourself and use your words, we can figure out a plan together.”
  5. If a child continues to break the rule, follow through with the consequence. For example, “Hitting hurts, so you need to take a time-out.”
  6. Allow a child to go to time-out on his own if he is able. If he does not go on his own, guide or lead him there. Stay calm while assisting the child.
  7. If a child leaves the time-out area before the time-out is over, stay calm and bring him back to the time-out area.
  8. Do not spank the child or yell on the way to time-out. A child will be unable to learn the intended lesson if he is being hurt or is afraid.
  9. Time-out can last a designated amount of time (e.g., five minutes) or can end when a child is calm and ready to engage in problem-solving. The time guideline should be established when family rules are created and should be consistent.
  10. Reinforce a child’s efforts at calming himself and focus on positive ways to solve problems or express emotions. For example, “I know you were mad before. I appreciate your taking a time-out and calming down. Can you think of a way to let someone know you are mad without hitting?”

The purpose of time-out is not to isolate or scare children. You should never use a bedroom for time-out, as children may associate sleep with punishment. You should never lock a child in a room or closet for time-out. You should never restrain a child by tying him to a chair or bed.

For more information, please consult a CHKD pediatrician.

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Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.