How to make “time-out” work for you and your child

Implementing “time-out” is an effective way to calm a frustrated, angry, or misbehaved child, and works best for toddlers and preschoolers.

How to make “time out” work for you and your child
 Time-out should happen immediately after your child misbehaves.

Is your child having a meltdown? Are they throwing a temper tantrum? Is their screaming waking up the neighbours and making your nerve frazzled?

When children misbehave and parents try to discipline them, feelings and emotions can spiral out of control. A time-out might be just what’s called for, giving both the parent and the child time to cool down.

“There’s no right or wrong way of doing time-out. You don’t have to put yourself under pressure to create the perfect time-out zone,” says educational psychologist, Kim Lazarus, from the Bella Vida Centre in Bryanston, Johannesburg. Do what works for you and your family.

The following pointers will assist you in getting “time outs” started on the right footing:

The time-out should not be excessively extended

“The point of time-out should be to show your child that there’s a logical consequence to bad behaviour and that he’s being punished for that behaviour – it’s not to keep him in a secluded corner for an extended period of time,” says Lazarus.

The amount of time a child should spend in the time-out corner can be worked out according to his age. So, if your child is three years old, you should keep him in time-out for three minutes.

“Time is very different for adults than it is for kids. For a three-year-old, three minutes is a significant amount of time, but for adults, it’s very short,” explains Lazarus.

Top tip: If your child comes out of the naughty corner before his time is up, you have to take him back there. It’s important that he stays in the time-out zone until his minutes are up.

Select the right location for a break

The time-out spot should always be in the same place so that your child knows they have to go there when they’re naughty. It can be helpful to choose this space before you even start with time-out and show it to your child. Explain to him that he will have to go there if he doesn’t behave and obey certain rules, or if he needs to calm down.

“There shouldn’t be anything in the time-out zone that can distract or entertain your child while he’s in time-out,” says Lazarus. “Parents often choose the bathroom for time-outs because there’s not much to do or look at in there.”

Any space will do, really, as long as the area is boring and away from the distractions of other siblings, group activities, the television, and toys. However, the time-out zone shouldn’t be too far away from where you are. You still need to keep an eye on your toddler to make sure he’s not doing anything that can harm him.

“It’s important not to leave your child in a room by himself for longer than five minutes without checking on him when he’s in time-out. You don’t want to create a fear of being locked up alone in a room, or anxiety because the child is feeling claustrophobic,” cautions Lazarus.

In the time-out zone, no toys should be allowed

Your toddler can take a comfort object like his ‘dudu’ blanket or their dummy with them to the time-out corner, but they shouldn’t be allowed take a puzzle or a toy to play with. “You don’t want to punish your child by depriving him of an object that makes him feel safe and soothed,” says Lazarus.

Don’t put off disciplining your child

If your child has misbehaved, time-out should take place immediately, unless you are in a busy shopping centre where it might not be safe or possible to do it. In this case, explain to him that he’s not allowed to misbehave again and that if he does, you will dish out more punishment (take away his favourite toy or TV privileges, for example). when you get home.

Explain to your child why he has to have time out

If your child has misbehaved, get down on your haunches, get to eye level with him, explain why his behaviour was naughty and that he has to go to the time-out corner now.

“An important part of disciplining is to make your child understand why he’s being punished,” says Lazarus. “After your toddler comes out of the naughty corner, you can ask him if he understands why he had to go there. If he doesn’t, explain to him again that he misbehaved and that that type of behaviour isn’t allowed.”

Maintain your composure

It’s difficult to always stay calm in a situation where your child is acting out.

“You can shout at your child’s behaviour the first time, and send him to the time-out corner (wall, passage, room, etc), but leave it at that,” says Lazarus. “Don’t let him pick up on your anxiety or frustration. This can feed his behaviour if he picks up on it and he might start acting out even more.”