Beginning to Use Time

Updated on February 14, 2010
J.D. asks from Ashburn, VA
16 answers

I have 21 month old boy is loving and laid-back, my girl is very bright and FIESTY :) Lately, her fiesty-ness has expanded into pushing and sometimes biting her brother. This is unacceptable to me (of course). I would like to start using "time outs" to reprimand her for this behavior. I have tried it a couple times.....I calmly tell her what she did wrong and not to do it, and I sit her on the bottom step and tell her to stay there. The first time I did it.....she sat there for a very long time....happily. And clearly did not interpret it as a punishment. The second time.....her brother went and voluntarily sat next to her and they held hands. LOL!

I am wondering if you all can share your specific logistics on how you implemented "time outs" in a child this young....and what has worked for you. I am most wondering about how to physically make her stay on the step. Do I stand there and block her from moving?? Do I walk away and then just keep putting her back on the step when she gets up? How do I officially declare that the time out is over (especially if she constantly got up)?

Thank you!

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answers from Washington DC on

My son is 20 months and we've been putting him on the step for time outs since shortly after his 1st birthday. We make him sit there for 1 min, but that's 1 minute of not talking, not crying and not playing. Sometimes it takes 20 mins to get that 1 min. Sometimes we have to physically sit him there, but most times we just tell him to sit on the step and he does.

The rule of thumb is 1 min per year old.

At the end of the time out we remind him why he was in time out (ex: its not nice to hit) and if it was something he did to someone (hitting, pulling hair, etc) we make him 'appologize' (which at this point is to give a hug because he can't say sorry, but we're working on it).

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answers from Portland on

Hi :) I started my daughter on time-outs at the age of 20 months, so you're in good company :) I will post my step-by-step below.

You really do have to isolate them from any and all distractions. I've found this to be extremely important. Also, when one child is in time out, I make sure to keep the other out of eyesight and play with them to keep them from wandering into the discipline area. I also ask them to be quiet, but that's really a shot in the dark. It's only a minute and a half, so it's not a big deal to break from whatever we're doing.

I have a chair that we use at the dinner table. It's too big for her to get out of, and she's very good about not "falling" out of the chair or trying to get out of it.

I put the chair in the corner, by her bedroom door (which is at the end of a very short hallway). I close her bedroom door and put her in the hallway, facing her door, in the corner that doesn't have the door knob (so she can't play with it). I make sure to never be severe and to be very calm when I put her down in the chair. I tell her, "Because you ____, you have to go to time out." Then I walk away calmly. Short and simple for their burgeoning language skills. I usually put her in for a minute and a half, sometimes 2 since she's getting closer to 24 months.

When she is done, I go to her (leaving her in the chair), get on my knees, eye to eye with her, and ask, "Do you know why Mommy put you in Time Out? It's because you ________. No ____________. If you __________ than Mommy has to put you in Time Out. Alright? Can you say Sorry? (she says "awwy") I say, "Good girl! All done!" Then I take her out of her chair, give her a hug, tell her she's a good girl, tell her not to do the behavior, and then say, "I love you! Go play and have fun!"

It must work, because she no longer screams when she's upset about something, and when she does scream, I just say, "Do you want to go to Time Out? Cuz when you scream when you're angry, you're telling Mommy you want to go to Time Out" and she stops immediately (at this point, I usually ask her what's wrong and encourage her to "use her words" and "tell Mommy" which works surprisingly well for her). She also used to run away from me if I asked her to give me something she couldn't play with (like my cell phone). But now, if I ask her politely to give it back, she does it about 95% of the time. Woohoo!

I have also found that it is EXTREMELY important to be very very calm when I discipline her (or at least it is this way with my child). Before, when I would try to discipline her, it never seemed to work. I realized I was shooting myself in the foot by getting upset and talking to her in a severe voice. Kids really do regurgitate their parents' behavior. So now, I NEVER use a severe voice or just say "NO!" with her unless she's poking her eye with her dinner fork or something hazardous like that. I always ASK her to do things with a pleasant voice instead of ordering her with an authoritarian voice. When I take her to Time Out, I do it calmly, I talk calmly, I make sure that she doesn't see or feel anger from me. I am amazed at the difference it has made not only in disciplining her, but in her overall behavior. She is a much happier, much calmer child.

Hope this all works! Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I have worked with children ages 0-17 at schools and at a psychiatric facility (children with behavioral issues). I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how/why to give time outs as this was the main form of discipline we used. I now have my own two children ages 1 1/2 and 5 1/2 and have successfully used time outs with my oldest daughter as well.

Everybody gave excellent "how to's" below. I will give you some "what not to do's" that I have observed over the years as making time outs harder or not quite as successful as you would want:

1) Do not put a child on time-out without warning. Make sure you give them a chance to modify their behavior.

2) Do not require that they sit perfectly still, make no noise, no crying etc. As long as they stay in the general spot you put them in, they will still learn from the time-out. Besides, giving them more attention for crying and making noise is counterproductive to the time-out concept (even looking at them and telling them their time is extended IS attention).

3) Do not extend the time!! When you say "your time-out is 3 minutes" it should BE 3 minutes. Set the timer so they know what to expect.

4) Do not require that the child say "I'm Sorry". Depending on the child, it can often turn into a power struggle. Ask them if they know why they got a time-out, explain to them how their behavior affects others and leave it at that.

5) Do not overuse time-outs. There are LOTS of other appropriate ways to discipline - ie. fighting over toys, the toy goes away, etc. Get creative

6) Be consistent. If you give a time-out for a certain behavior at home, make sure you do it while at a store, at a friends house, etc. Find a spot out of the way and make them have a seat for a few minutes.

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answers from Phoenix on

Starting time-outs can be hard, but if you're firm and consistent, they will work. As a daycare provider, I have had the pleasure of introducing time-out to many children. First, as I'm taking them to time out, I get down on the child's level, state what they did, that it was not nice/allowed and that they now have to sit in time-out because of it. I then walk them over to time-out and sit them down. I tell the child again that they're in time-out for XY and Z and that they have to sit there until I tell them they can get up. I usually add in "No gettting up, no playing, no fits." My kids just sit on the floor by the gate at the bottom of the stairs, just a good place that is within my eyesight, but away from the play area. I clear any toys out of reach and will ask any other children in the area to move their play to another place, because whoever has to sit in time-out. If children try to join the child in time-out, I ask them to leave whoever alone because they're in time-out for XY and Z. Then I walk away, but keep a look-out from the corner of my eye. If the child gets up, I simply put them back into time out, telling them they are not allowed to get up until I tell them they can, that they are in time-out for XY and Z, that they have to sit longer now because they got up and sit them down again. I remind them once more not to get up from time-out and then walk away again. If they get up again, it's just another repeat. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but the repetition is what kids need to learn. The rule is no more than 1 minute for every year of age (so just shy of 2 minutes for your kids), but if they get up, I restart the time, usually not making them re-sit the entire time if they stay put. When the time is up, I ask the child to come see me, I once again tell them what they did to be put into time-out (when they understand time-out more, I ask them to tell me what they did), that it was not nice/allowed, I ask them to say sorry to whoever they wronged or to me if it was for breaking rules in general, then give them a hug and tell them not to do it again. Then it's over until it happens again. :-)
Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

I think when they're that young, time outs don't help. Our preschool taught me a GREAT way to handle this. 1) tell her what she did is wrong and bad behavior 2) tell her she has to help her brother feel better to make it right 3) show her what to do and help her do it -- get him a glass of water, ice for the bruise, band aid for the bite.... whatever is appropriate -- even have the brother say what HE thinks he needs, to give him a little power and control over the situation 4) she should apologize to him along the way -- an apology alone doesn't cut it, but she needs to also start learning that words can be powerful too and she can use her words as well as her actions to help and not to hurt her brother or anyone else.

If you do want to separate her from him in addition to all this, have her sit on the step for one minute (you can use the kitchen timer to let everyone know when her time is up).

The thing is that you have to be very serious about all this, or you risk turning it into a game for her. She could end up just hitting or biting him to set off this fun ritual of being the caregiver. You need to let her and him know that this is serious business and not play time.

My boys are now 8 and 10 and really got a lot out of this preschool method of teaching empathy and responsibility.

How cute that her brother sat on the step with her and held her hand. Holy cow, that is just too too sweet. Enjoy this wonderful time with them.

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answers from Washington DC on

2 is really too young for time outs so try redirecting and distracting your daughter wth something else until this phase passes. Try not to make a big deal or focus too much on the unwanted behavior or you will make it worse. Just a quick, "we don't bite people", and then move onto something to take her attention away fom the neg. behavior.



answers from Tampa on

A minute for every year of their age and don't put them in their bedroom during timeout or they will associate timeouts with bedtime and sleep time. And keep your son away while doing this. I put my daughter in the hallway and that usually does the trick.



answers from Washington DC on

I have two ideas. The first is that you tell her she can get up when she is ready to say she's sorry and be gentle with others. My friend does that and it reminds her kids why they are there and encourages them to get control of themselves and decide when they are ready to get up.

The second is to tell her firmly No Pushing (or biting), take her brother and leave the room. My son wouldn't sit still for time out and I didn't feel like giving him so much attention to keep taking him back to a spot when he was misbehaving, so I took it out of his control and left the room. It was very effective with him.

Good luck!



answers from Washington DC on

For biting, try redirecting her behavior. With my little biter, I showed her how to use our lips instead of her teeth to touch someone. Then I showed her that if she needed to use her teeth on something, she could use a chew toy or if that was not available she could use her shirt (good to have a back-up plan that is always available!). Also check out Teeth are Not for Biting from the library. Time outs are not really the solution for this, I think, because the problem is not that she is using her teeth to show her frustration but rather she is probably coping with teething pain.

You might want to get Hands are not for Hitting at the same time. And just redirect her pushing to gentle touching.



answers from Washington DC on

I have a 25mos old son and just started with time outs...Yes, I had to physically hold him in time out in the beginning...21mos may be harder. He HATES it now and all I have to do is say "you want to go to time-out?" and he straightens up most of the time... He does still test me, but I stick to it and put him in time-out to keep it fresh in his mind.

I didn't use the steps, because he really likes the steps and we use them to go up stairs (didn't want them to be negative for him). I use a corner and now...a friend of mine told me about the "naughty spot". My mom sent me 6 bright red placemats that I use in every room in the house and plan to take them with me to restaurants/playdates etc...this way time out goes where we go!



answers from Washington DC on

We use time outs for my daughter and they have worked great! I think we started around 2 years old (she is 5 now) She sits at the bottom of the stairs in our foyer. It's removed from the living room and empty (no window, tv etc) but I can see her from above.

She always gets a warning to stop doing "whatever bad behavior" and then the next time is time out. We walk to the stairs, I tell her she is in time out because of ... and she needs to sit in time out to think about it.

We use an electric kitchen timer, one minute per year. It has a loud beep to let her know when it's done. If my girl gets up and walks up the stairs, timer starts over. In the beginning I've stood near her and ignored her, (back to her) but sent the message that if she gets up she is going right back to her "seat". I don't mind if she walks around at the bottom, but not playing. You might have to keep returning your daughter to her "spot" until she knows you are serious, or really understands the routine. You can either have a fixed spot, or something like a kids chair, placemat, square etc that could be moved around or brought to grandma's house etc.

Afterwards I ask her why she was in time out. If she answers correctly, we talk about why she (hit her sister etc) and why that was wrong, what action she could do next time. We end with a hug and kiss!

Honestly, it's kind of cute that your son went to sit with his twin sister, but in the future, I'd make him stay with you and not her. Just to send the message how serious you are and this is her time to think about what she did.

Once we used timeouts a few times, my daughter knew I was serious and her behavior improved. I saw the timeouts go down. Sometimes I ask if she would like one as a warning and that does the trick.

Good Luck, but stay firm. If you warn her or him, make sure you follow thru!


answers from Bellingham on

We chose a spot in each room of our home that is the "time out" spot. I don't believe in leaving kids, especially little ones alone for their punishment, at least not completely, it's hard to know what they are doing or to follow through if I couldn't see them.

I will put our daughter on the time out spot, explain very simply she is there because.....and then tell her she's in time out for ___ minutes (I do 1 minute for each year in age) then I set a timer and let her sit there. Sometimes she screams, sometimes she sits, sometime she gets up. Each time she gets up to go away I pick her up, put her back and tell her because she got up her time starts over. Didn't take long to learn not to do that. When the time goes, I go over, have her stand up, I ask her what she did that she had to have time out (she's 3 so she's old enough to explain) for your little ones I would explain why they were there. I tell her I don't like to give her time out but when she disobeys I don't have a choice, and I always tell her that I like it better when she's using her big girl listening ears rather than get in trouble. Then I hug her, tell her I love her and let it go. We don't revisit things over and over, once punished it's finished, my Mother in Law believed heavily in shaming her kids, making them feel bad for a wrong choice for hours if not a few days. It has left a lasting impression on my husband, one I don't like. I don't want my nose rubbed in a mistake post consequence and I don't do it for my children. The other thing I also make sure not to do is use the term "bad girl" she isn't a bad girl, I tell her good girls make bad choices. I don't ever want to damage her spirit, I just want to train it!

Good luck! Remember all the info you'll get from all of us on here is just an opinion. Take the good with the bad and know that we're all trying to help!

let us know how it goes!


answers from Washington DC on

i love that so many moms have reiterated to keep returning the child to the time-out area. physically holding a child there is counter-productive and will just anger and frustrate everyone involved. stay very calm and be very consistent. remember, nothing works well the first time, and even the best 'fixes' don't always work. keep your eye on the long-term results you're trying to achieve, not the present frustration!



answers from Clarksville on

first have 2 separate chairs so that they wont be near each other in cas they both get into trouble at the same time. It takes a while but when you catch them doing something you dont like give them one or two chances to correct and if they dont then time-out.

Take them over to the timeout chair. Tell then to sit in timeout. Only do it for like 30 secs at first. Then walk away but someplace where you can still keep your eye on them. If they get up then just take back over and sit them down telling them that they have to sit here b/c they did whatever it was you didnt want them to do. And keep doing this until they get the idea. It will take a fewe times most def but they will eventuallt get the idea.

We did this with our son and now he is usually well behaved and knows what timeout is and it makes him think twice before he does something he isnt supposed to. We started timeout on our son at the age of 23 months. Is now 2.5.

And if she constantly is getting up then i would shorten the time to like 15 secs then keep adding 15 secs on until you reach a full minute..thats what the experts say is the longest a child this young can really stand to stay still. Oh..and no smiling no matter how cute they are if you do this they will think you are paying a game. And one more thing after each time out we get a hug and a kiss and tell him again why he got the timeout so he can remember that when he does that he can expect to be sitting in the timeout chair..good luck.


answers from Dallas on

Get the Love and Logic books. They will give you techniques that work.



answers from Washington DC on

If you ever watched Super Nanny on friday nights, you would see her have the parent put the child on the spot and walk away. You are not supposed to engage them. Sometimes it will take hours to get the child to sit on the spot for 2 minutes (1 min per year of age), and then after a few times, they stay there. I don't have that kind of resolve, so we stick my son on the steps and pull the baby gate shut so he can't get out. I would say that her brother should not be allowed to sit with her, although my kids have done the same thing during time out. After a few times, they start to realize what it is and not like it. We used the book 1-2-3 magic. They get 2 warnings except for hitting and biting, which is automatic timeout.


If you ever watched Super Nanny on friday nights, you would see her have the parent put the child on the spot and walk away. You are not supposed to engage them. Sometimes it will take hours to get the child to sit on the spot for 2 minutes (1 min per year of age), and then after a few times, they stay there. I don't have that kind of resolve, so we stick my son on the steps and pull the baby gate shut so he can't get out. I would say that her brother should not be allowed to sit with her, although my kids have done the same thing during time out. After a few times, they start to realize what it is and not like it. We used the book 1-2-3 magic. They get 2 warnings except for hitting and biting, which is automatic timeout. the time out doesn't start until they serve the entire time (each time you have to put them back the time starts again.)

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