How Old, and How, to Start Time Outs?

Updated on June 07, 2010
C.C. asks from Tampa, FL
17 answers

I have a 20 month old and sometimes he's a total toad. I do take him away from situations in which he's misbehaving - for instance if he sitting on my lap, goofing off and thrashing around, then he gets put on the floor and told, "No. You're hurting Momma." Or if he's playing with something he shouldn't it gets taken away and he gets told why - i.e. "Not yours" or "Dangerous." But at what point do children generally get time outs where they go and sit in a corner or on a chair and how does one start that? I'm certain he wouldn't just sit somewhere on his own and I'd have to go sit with him, which is fine...

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K.H.

answers from Washington DC on

You can start discipline around 18 months , I do all of what you do with my youngest (almost 2) , but if she is really going off then I put her in the crib for a couple of minutes , after I always tell her why she was put in the crib , as they get older I find timeouts not that effective , they do not work for my 7 and 4 1/2 yr old....they get things taken away from them .

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A.C.

answers from Sacramento on

I think age 2....
And begin by sitting near him so he can't escape and have him sit for 2 minutes, hug and say sorry when over.

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J.S.

answers from Dallas on

I have 4 children and we started right about this age, as soon as mine were able to understand exactly what you are doing now; removing him from the situation, taking away the toy, or whichever action.

The way I start it, was I have a specific spot in each room designated with a folding chair, or a rug, or a bottom step and that was the "spot". After a warning, i would tell him that he needed to think about what he did by taking a "time out", then I placed him on the "spot".
But I always did an activity very close to him while he was siting there, even if he was crying or mad. I did this for 2 reasons.
1. I was to be able to immediately put him back on the spot if he tried to get off, be sure to not make it a chase game where he runs off and you hurry to catch him. Calmly pick him up and place him back on the spot without saying anything except repeating yourself that he needs to stay there until his time out is up.
2. Is that timeout at this age can be traumatic if they are seperated from you. Remember that seperation anxiety is very prominent at this age and you dont want him to think that because he did something wrong, you abandoned him. Time out shouldn't be scary, just exactly what it is meant to be, a "time out" of the situation that he was handling incorrectly. Watching the action go on without him may also be helpful to the situation.

I always do 1 minute for each year of age, but I would round up, so after 2 minutes, you need to get all the way down to his eye level and explain to him again that what he did was wrong or I use the phrase "not a good choice" a lot, (its important also that you dont stand over him and be intimidating, his punishment is over at this point and if you stand over him like a drill sargeant, he wont understand that the punishment was sitting out, he will think hes getting yelled at again.) Tell him that you love him and next time he can just ask for help, or whatever the correct way to handle it should have been. Have him say he is sorry to whomever was involved, even if it was just you.

I love using time out as a better form of punishment rather than spanking because, especially at this age, they are learning how to make good choices and if they get spanked, or swatted for the wrong ones, they only learn what not to do, not how to handle it correctly next time.

hope this helps, I know it all sounds great in theory, but a little patience and persistance is exactly what you need.

Good luck and God Bless!

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C.B.

answers from Kansas City on

somewhere around 2 is fine to start them. if that's how you choose to go. my son did okay with them, around this age. my thing was intentions. if it was just his "baby-ness" coming out and he had no clue what he was doing, i still redirected at this age. but there will come a time when he is deliberately doing something he knows is naughty, just to make a game of it. at that point a time it super effective, because it shows him he won't get attention from acting out. you should not ever sit with him in time outs though, if he gets up, you just keep putting him back. he will get it if you start early, then you won't have as big a fight on your hands than if you start later.

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T.G.

answers from St. Louis on

You will get answers all across the board on this one. I don't think children really start to understand time outs until about 2 years of age. They understand that they are being punished, but they will not remember that if they do that action again it will result in punishment. I have 4 kids and at this age there is a lot of redirection. If it is a dangerous situation like touching the stove nobs, a very firm "no" will get their attention and probably make them cry.
Time outs are very effective (for most children) over the age of 2. Some people use one warning and then time out. I am about to change over to the way the preschools do it. Yellow light, Red light, Time out. I am going to put a traffic light on the fridge (just like at school) and have the little ones move their car if they are naughty.
Remember that each child is different. Time out may not work for older children. The key is to be consistant, especially with "stuboorn" kids. If they get up, put them back. I do not think that you necessarily need to sit next to them. That sort of defeats the purpose of time out in a way. They should be in sight, though. EVERY time they get up you place them back.
Rule of thumb is 1 minute for each year of age.
One thing you need to watch out for is over using time out. There are some times when their behavior us due to being hungry, or tired or just plain bored. These are not their fault, but our fault as their parents. If this is the case, we need to address the issue behind the behavior ( give them a nap, feed them, redirect them with an activity such as playing outside).
The instance you gave of holding him and he starts being rough, you handled correctly. Just place him down. When he is being nice again, he can sit on your lap. Time out I would use for more serious things like throwing things, hitting/biting etc. If he is involved in an instance where he has made a mess, he should help you clean it up (no punishment).
Like I said, what ever way you choose to discipline, the key is to remain consistant or it will not work. Good luck. And remember, at this age they do not do "bad" things on purpose. They are exploring and learning.

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T.H.

answers from St. Louis on

This is just my opinion, but time out is just a way to show a young one that they can be controlled by a bigger one. I don't think it is effective at all! Sitting with your child in time out just to keep him there serves no purpose and is punishing you not the child. at twenty months his ability to benefit from punishment is low. Redirecting his attention is more effective. Patience and good judgement will be your keys. I think I have heard that the age to start is 3 years old and one minute per year is the amount of time you should leave them in time out. good luck.

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R.J.

answers from Seattle on

I started putting kiddo on timeout in his crib right around a year. "NO. NO. You HURT mommy (daddy, auntie, your friend, etc.). NO (hit, bite, pinch, kick, etc)." and make a big sad face and put him in his crib and walk out. I'd leave the door open and make a rather big deal of going on with my life in view of him and ignoring him. The whole point being to make him sad/cry/upset.

I'd stop what I was doing and go in every minute or two and remind him "You're on timeout for HURTING mommy. No _________." Then, after a couple times of this, I'd bring him out, do apologies/hugs... and go about our day. In the beginning I walked him through what has become our standard formula for coming off of time out (being able to answer what/why you're on timeout, what would be better to do the next time, and apologizing or "putting it right" to the best of your ability)... by 3 he was able to do the formula on his own with little to no coaching.

But each and every time he _________, it was scooped and on timeout. Some days it was 3 or 4 times an hour, some days it was once. It lasted for about 2 weeks, and then he maybe was on timeout once a month or so. Barely any timeouts were needed at all after those first 2 weeks until we hit the "terrible 3's".

We continued to use his crib for timeout until he was 3ish. Although around 2-3 if we were elsewhere a couch or a carseat would work in a pinch. After we got rid of his crib, his room became where he was sent on timeout.

Our timeoutable offenses:
- Hurting people
- Throwing a fit
- Not listening after I'd counted to 5 (in our house counting means I'm "serious". I realized fairly early on that I'm a pretty silly person... and some days it's FINE to make an elephant nose out of socks, or to run around naked, and other days WE HAVE TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW. It didn't seem fair for him to "know" when I was being silly and when I was being serious... so the counting is the sign that it's serious time, not silly time.)

Also, except for in the very very beginning, when we were teaching empathy with timeouts (aka you hurt someone, we WANT you to tie that to being unhappy)... timeouts are NOT usually punishments, but a solution time (thinking about what happened, and what to do instead next time), or a time to cool off. Time outs are sacred in our hot blooded fam. I go on them, kiddo goes on them, daddy SHOULD (but rarely does, but he's also rarely around). If you send yourself on timeout, you get absolute privacy... and you can come off when you feel you're ready... but if you get sent on time out you have to do the formula before you can come off, and mom has veto power (aka if he still looks/acts ticked or angry, he's not ready yet).

Kiddo started sending himself when he was 2-3ish. He'd usually pick the stairs (aka between the rest of the house or his room), or somewhere nearby but removed from where people are.

Because we use timeout for emotional monitoring, we have never done the minute per year of age thing. If kiddo got sent because he was throwing a fit, it could take a full 15-30 minutes for him just to calm down... much less "tink about it".

We also never had any problem tieing his bed to timeout... I think in large part, because that's where he got to calm down and because everyone was HAPPY / things were "fixed" by the time timeout was over. Only once things were "fixed" could he come out. We actually had a really hard time getting rid of his crib, because it was his "safe place". We had the rail off of it for a full year before he was willing to switch his safe place for a new bed.

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C.C.

answers from Chicago on

Hi, I agree with Tracy, I personally dont agree with time outs. Instead I explain why he should stop doing something. I only punish if its something that was asked of him to do and he doesnt do it consistantly. . We need to teach our kids in our own way what is acceptable behavior. Sticking them in a corner does nothing really. As they get older you can take away a privelege, and explain why its being done.

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R.W.

answers from Tampa on

Have you ever popped in on the day care when they weren't expecting you? If not I think it's time to surprise them with a visit. Day cares are not what you think. They couldn't pay me to keep my child. I worked for the Rainbow center and have been in several day cares and did not like what I have seen.
Get a private sitter. Your child will be a lot better off..

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P.M.

answers from Portland on

Because every child is different, be aware that time-outs just don't work for some kids. For others, it's pretty effective. The ideal is not to punish, but to give the child a chance to reset his emotions if he's upset and acting out, or to consider why certain behavior isn't acceptable.

With that in mind, some parents and child psychologists believe that there's nothing to be gained, and a great deal to lose, by a "punitive" approach. Especially if it turns into an extended struggle, with the child repeatedly escaping and the parent repeatedly dragging the child back to the time-out spot and starting the clock again. This becomes terribly hard on both the child and the parent, and since the idea is to help the child understand self-control and find calming alternatives to his behavior, what's the point? Both parties end up furious, upset, and often crying – about the punishment.

Only a few iterations completely loses the original focus and turns the whole affair into a battle of wills. The parent, in that case, thinks she MUST win, and the only way to accomplish that is emotional and physical force. A child who's just beginning to understand himself as a separate being with separate desires and motives is understandably confused and frustrated by a setup that seems to set his parents against his most basic needs.

That can have several possible outcomes. Two of the most common, with which I have personal experience from my birth familly:

1. It can create an understanding in the child that he will be able to win when he gets big enough or devious enough, and the child works toward that end result, with either outwardly expressed disdain and rage or inwardly guarded anger. (This was a younger sister of mine, who has had a seriously dysfunctional life.)

2. It can establish an understanding that parents don't care about his feelings and needs, which can result in a sad, withdrawn and uncommunicative child who believes he's not worthy of respect and care. (This was me and another sister, who have had years of work to overcome painful self-esteem issues.)

Those are outcomes of time-outs (and other forms of punishment) gone wrong. But this approach does work for some children, and is better than some alternatives. In my best understanding, the time-out is a "safe" time for the child in which he is given a supportive opportunity to deal with frustration, disappointment, anger, or inappropriate behavior.

A quiet spot near the parent, on the couch or a chair near where mommy's working in the kitchen, are excellent locations. Quiet conversation may be desirable and completely appropriate. Sending a child to his room may work if it's not a punishment – even if he forgets while he's there and starts playing, that's fine if the point was to get into a better mood. But some kids will find being sent away from the parent to be an unbearable rejection, and the suffering they experience may be totally out of proportion to the misbehavior.

After the time-out, usually about one minute per year of the child's life, you can help him reflect on a more desirable behavior than the one that stopped his play. Help him understand what his alternatives might be; using words instead of hitting or screaming; asking for help if he's frustrated; finding something else to do if he's asking for something he can't have (and parents really would do well to provide those alternatives before the meltdown); etc.

Many parents require the child to apologize after a misdemeanor. I personally think this is teaching the child to tell a convenient lie so he can get back to his play. It is fine, however, to model, early and often, the civilized art of apology. Just as with any other courtesy, children learn best by seeing, hearing, and receiving those courtesies.

So, what if your child doesn't seem to be one who benefits from time-outs? There are two related approaches that I find to be sane, compassionate, encouraging and positive. For younger children, I'm impressed by the approach used by Dr. Harvey Karp in The Happiest Toddler on the Block. You can find a whole set of videos and interviews on this in youtube if you'd like to see this alternative in action.

For more verbal kids, I can't recommend strongly enough the wonderful book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, in a clear, easy-to-read cartoon format. Though it's non-punitive (in the forceful sense), this is not parent-as-pushover stuff. You'll be glad you tried this approach!

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H.P.

answers from Orlando on

I started right around your son's age with my son. It will be really frustrating at first b/c he wont seem to get it. Keep doing it & he will eventually.
We do 1 minute per year.
H.

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B.B.

answers from Orlando on

I just took my grandson to the Dr and was told now is the time to start time out. She said to take the child to the bedroom or a room that is quiet. Tell him he is in time out because.... Sit down with him between your legs with his back to you. gently hold his legs down and count to 20 seconds. Stand him up and turn him around and tell him time out is over and remind him what he shouldn't be doing. Stick to it and eventually you won't have to hold him there and the time will get longer till he can go to time out alone.

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B.C.

answers from Joplin on

Not until age 2, anything before that they do not understand why they are being "punished" before age two you have to have things that are no-no's for safety reasons of course, but the best course of action is redirection. I would suggest that it is ok for an offending toy to have a time out = ) I always had a spot on the top of the fridge for toys that were not played with nicely ( we had/well still have an issue with throwing toys) Also time outs are only supposed to be a minute per year. I am speaking from a parents point of view ( 3 kids of my own 3, 9 and 14) and also from a daycare provider with a degree in early childhood education. I know how frustrating it can be, just delight in how easily they can be distracted at this age = )

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A.G.

answers from Las Vegas on

Okay....I think I have the BEST time out method. First....start him now....I started both my kids with time outs at about 14mo. Maybe they didn't get it at frist, but it didn't take long for them to catch on.

Second.....us a play pen for their time out zone. NO TOYS in it, and have it be removed from the main area that you are in. If your son can climb out, just continue to tell him NO, and put him back in. My almost 3 year old can climb out, but since he KNOWS he will go back in for LONGER....he doesn't even try.

Good luck

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M.G.

answers from Chicago on

I have twins a month younger than your son. We started timeouts right before they turned one. We would tell them the expectation (get down from there, please stop playing with the TV, or whatever). When they didn't listen, I'd take them and sit them on the floor between my legs. I'd then wrap may arms around them and hold their hands to the floor, like they were restrained. I would firmly tell them why they were there (we don't climb the entertainment center, or we don't bite). It worked. The key is consistency. You must do it every time, or your son will know you're not serious. As they get older, we'll work on having a spot for them to go to, but now they're too young and will run around and still play.

Oh, and I forgot, a timeout is supposed to be about one minute per year of age.

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K.M.

answers from Tampa on

Hi,
Check out YokaReeder.com- there may be more workable ways.
best,k

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A.H.

answers from Los Angeles on

You can definately start now. Do those firm warnings and if it doesn't help, pick him up and go put him in his crib saying "time out" several times. Leave. come back in about 1 1/2 minutes (one minute for every year of age). Say you were in time out because.... (even if he doesn't understand). Then I love you and hugs. Works wonders with mine. Now my younger daughter (turning two in a couple weeks) doesn't have a crib but I just go put her on the bed and then leave (I have to hold the doorknob).

REMEMBER: Time out is a REMOVAL of ALL reinforcers. So that means, the punishment shouldn't include something they want- you!

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