How to Use Consequences

Using Time-Out

Time-out is appropriate when a child is immediately removed from an activity for inappropriate behavior and asked to sit alone quietly for a specified time to think about his actions. It can be a very effective way to help an aggressive kid calm down. In fact, many parents call the time-out location "the thinking chair" or "cool-down corner." Time-out is the kind of consequence that should be customized depending on the age of your child, his temperament and personality, and the severity of the misbehavior. For some kids, it's an unendurable cruelty, and for others it's no fun but not a big deal either.

Here are a few general tips for using time-out:

  • Find a quiet, safe, well-lit, and isolated part of the house, and set it aside for time-out.
  • Be sure to set aside an appropriate chair (no beanbag or recliner).
  • Be sure there's no access to games, toys, music, pets, food, TV, friends, phone, or other distractions.
  • Make sure the area is one where she may not receive attention and is out of the general household traffic.
  • Set an appropriate time. The simplest rule for determining the time length for kids seven and under is one minute for each year of the child's age (three years equals three minutes, six years equals six minutes, and so on). Remember that these are the minimum times. Do not let your kid out earlier. The length of the extinction depends on the severity of the infraction and your child's age.
  • Always tell your child exactly how long he is required to remain in time-out. Set a timer with a bell so you know exactly when the time is up. Then keep the timer near you so you maintain control of it.
  • Don't shave time off the time-out period. Once it's set, stick to it and be consistent.
  • The clock starts as soon as your kid stops resisting and begins the time-out properly.
  • Once time-out is established as a consequence, it must be enforced. The child is not allowed to leave time-out until he behaves appropriately: sitting quietly without talking and remaining for the stipulated time. If he doesn't behave, add an extra minute of time-out from the moment he does act right. For instance, if he's been misbehaving in time-out for twelve minutes and then finally sits quietly, add one more minute for his perfect behavior and then let him out.
  • Don't peek in or respond to any attempts for attention. Any interaction with your child will only reinforce whatever misbehavior he is displaying. This is the time for your child to think for himself.
  • Implement time-out anywhere your child displays the inappropriate behavior whenever possible: "You were hitting. Go sit on Grandma's bed for ten minutes." If you're not in an appropriate place, try to find one as soon as possible.
  • Following the time-out, the child must still complete what you asked him to do. If he still doesn't comply, then double the time-out length.


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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