Do timeouts really work?


To timeout or not to timeout?

Whether you are for them or against them, there is a lot of controversy around them.

Historically, the term ‘Timeout’ is an abbreviation for ‘Timeout from Positive Reinforcement’. They are based on the premise that children should be raised in an environment that is rich with ‘time-ins’: loving, positive interactions, such as reading a story with your child, laughing with them, or playing a fun game with them.

The initial ‘timeout’ premise comes from the idea that when children in nurturing and loving environments do dangerous things or behave defiantly, to stop the behaviour, the parent should briefly take away any positive reinforcement. In this way the child learns to associate the good things (the time-ins) with good, safe behaviour.

But even when you have a home environment that is loving and nurturing, timeouts may still not work.

Here are some reasons why timeouts MAY NOT work:

Employing the timeout too late

In order for timeouts to be effective, it is important that you notice the signs when your child is about to do something wrong, such as hit someone, raise his voice or throw his crayons. Your timeout should happen before the naughty action is done, not after it has been done.

Thinking of timeout as punishment

Timeouts shouldn't be used as a consequence for bad behavior. Rather, it should be done before the action was done.

Not having a Plan B

If you find that timeouts don't work to nip bad behavior in the bud, or your child is constantly on the verge of falling apart, you need to rethink the way your timeouts are done.

So how do you do timeouts the right way?

Give a warning

When you see that your child is on the verge of acting out, this is where your warning should be set in place. For example, you could say something like, ‘You are playing too rough and are starting to hurt other children; if you don't stop, you're going to need a timeout. Giving your child a warning gives them the power to make their own decision. And this is imperative when it comes to enabling your child to be independent and make the right choices.

If the pre-meltdown behavior doesn't stop then casually send your child to timeout

Now, what timeout looks like for your family may be different to what it looks like for my family. The timeout should separate your child from the action. This may mean that you put your child in his room. Or, it may mean simply removing him from his current position and putting him in a different room. The length of time away is also dependent on you and your child – you may find that your child responds to being put into their room for 5-10 minutes to cool off, or you may find that merely taking the toy from them, or distracting them for 2 minutes is enough to rectify the behavior.

Let your child rejoin the action when they’re ready

When he's calm again, your attitude should be welcoming and encouraging ‘time-in’.

Praise your child for good behavior

It's important that your child knows he'll get attention for behaving well. This means you have to be alert for any sign that he's moving in the right direction.

What happens when your child has already done the bad behaviour?

Even once your child has reacted in a bad/naughty way, timeouts can still be effective. Timeouts are a good space to allow your child to calm down, and for you to calm down and formulate a response, rather than reacting in anger. This is not to say that you will be calm during this process – you will be angry/frustrated; your child will be crying/uncontrollable – but taking the time to think will make the exercise worth it.

Before letting your child out of timeout, chat to them, and explain why their actions were naughty, and why you won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour. Here could also be good time to say something like: ‘If you do this again, I am going to take away [insert favourite toy/thing].’

For me, the key with timeouts is to not place emphasis on the incorrect behaviour, but the behaviour that you want your child to express.

If you have spoken to any mom friends, you will get differing views on the issue of ‘timeouts’. Some are adamantly for and others vehemently against.

Do you implement timeouts? If so, what strategies have you found to be the best? Let us know so we can share your insight!


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