With parents spending more time with their children than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their need for discipline that works is greater than ever. Fortunately, there are some proven techniques, such as timeouts.

As a developmental psychologist, I believe that anyone raising little kids could learn how to better use timeouts. This disciplinary technique is among the best ways to stop frustrating child behavior, like not listening, breaking family rules or being overly aggressive.

Following all the required steps is essential.

Incorrect and incomplete information

Psychologists have encouraged parents, other guardians and frequent caregivers to use timeouts, which are generally appropriate for children between the ages of 2 and 5, since the 1960s.

During timeouts, parents and other guardians briefly stop paying attention to their child and make the child sit quietly and calm down. Timeouts are meant to halt misbehavior and get children to stop acting out in the future.

Researchers have found over and over that timeouts generally work well – as long as parents and other primary caregivers consistently follow five specific steps.

The trouble is, much of the information available on the internet and through other channels is inaccurate or incomplete.

Why Timeouts Fail

When a team of scholars reviewed about 100 websites, they found that not one of them included every essential step. So it shouldn’t be surprising that other researchers have found that most parents who use timeouts fail to follow them all.

Another problem is that timeouts aren’t appropriate for all forms of misbehaviour. They’re best reserved for when kids behave aggressively, when they break things, or when they refuse to follow directions that make them unsafe. For instance, your child hitting his brother or sister would be an appropriate reason to give a timeout. But tantrums, whining and talking back are not. Parents should try other strategies, such as ignoring the child for these behaviours.

What’s more, I do not recommend them at school, where, although there has not yet been conclusive research, I believe that other strategies work better.


Instead of using timeouts whenever a child misbehaves, adults should try other techniques, such as ignoring minor misbehaviour, and consider if they can improve on how they react when a child misbehaves.

For parents and other guardians, that means making sure that their children’s days are filled with happy and fun ‘time in.’ Parents can accomplish this by devoting at least 10 minutes a day to one-on-one play with their children. Parents should also be on the lookout for children’s good behaviour and praise all the wonderful things their children do.

Kids Need To Understand Timeouts

Kids should know which kinds of misbehaviour will lead to timeouts, where they’ll have to go during timeouts and how long they’ll last. Parents should explain what will happen during timeouts when everyone is calm and happy, using a stuffed animal to demonstrate each step.

Key steps

Timeouts are supposed to be boring, not scary or extremely punitive. Parents need to stay calm and quiet the whole time, saying only the bare minimum to children about each step.

Before making your child begin their timeout, explain clearly why they have to do one. For instance, you could briefly say, “You hit your sister, you’re going to a timeout”” Then walk your child to the timeout chair. I recommend using a quiet, boring location, rather than a room with lots of toys, filled with people or where a TV or another distracting device is on. It helps to use a sturdy chair suitable for grownups, rather than one designed for children because kid-sized chairs can be easily pushed over or even thrown by upset children.

Kids should spend one minute for each year of their age in the chair. There’s no evidence that making timeouts last any longer than that works better.

It’s OK if they get out of the chair, which does happen a lot. Parents can return their children to the chair, while staying calm and quiet. This might have to happen more than once because timeouts are boring by design and not all children can stand being bored.

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If a child will only sit for 30 seconds at first, then end it after 30 seconds. But it needs to be up to the adult in charge, not the child, to say when the timeout is over. Once everyone involved gets the hang of doing timeouts the right way, they can gradually last longer. If your child was cooperative, thank them for that afterward.

Once the timeout ends, reconnect. This could be sitting on the floor and playing together. Or parents, other guardians and frequent caregivers can watch for things the child does that they want to see happen more often and praise that behavior.

Both parents and children need to follow all of these steps every time for timeouts to work. If you have trouble controlling your own temper, try something else. Also, timeouts aren’t appropriate for all children.

In most families, however, I find that timeouts work because young children realize that hitting and other kinds of misbehaviour will bring about an unwanted break from having fun.The Conversation

Lucy (Kathleen) McGoron, Assistant Professor of Child and Family Development, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Do you think timeouts work, in your experience? Tell us in the comments below.

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  • No idle threats. Parents must carry through and stick to their guns


  • Timeouts work for us – but it’s crucial to warn the child about the behaviour, then explain why going to timeout and make sure the time in timeout is appropriate for the child’s age.
    Also crucial is not reacting or engaging if the child screams out or moves from timeout. Just quietly put them back.
    My kids now now how it works and after the time is up we talk about the behaviour, say sorry if nessecary to whoever they’d hurt and then hug and move on with the day.


  • I find timeouts work well for us. They get a warning first and time out if it continues. Explanation given as to why they’re in timeout then when time out ends we have another discussion around why the behaviour wasn’t acceptable and how to deal with the issues in the future. I think giving kids only 10 mins of one on one attention isn’t enough though.


  • Great post and great if it works out for you. Finding an area where there is no other distractions can be quite hard at times though with COVID. Thanks for the thoughtful post.


  • Most of the time they worked pretty well.


  • I would send my boys to a time out but it wasn’t always successful. My youngest thought it was great because he’d lay down and go to sleep.


  • I always had timeout as a kid, not sure how my parents managed to get me to sit still for what seemed like forever. I would love to get these techniques to work with my kids.


  • We used to try, but generally I’d say no… or depends! My son’s time outs were in his bedroom, but knowing now he has ASD, it takes on a whole new role.


  • Never used the time out as such. It was more asking them to find a quiet thinking place were they could calm down and think about their behaviour or what was upsetting them so much. Then when they were ready they would come out for a chat so we could talk about why their behaviour was not ok or what we could do to help them feel better. When my children were younger and arguing all the time we introduced the cuddle corner. We would ask them to stand there hugging each other and in less than a minute they would be giggling and everything was right in the world again. Obvious if their altercation was more serious I would tend to give attention to the child on the receiving end and rather than ask the other one to say sorry I would ask how seeing them upset made them feel and what they thought they could do to make them feel happy again.


  • Sometimes a quick smack works wonders and it’s over a lot quicker. Even animals use this technique with their young.


  • I use this method time to time.But for me it’s not working some times. It is essential to reconnect with child after time out.


  • Very informative article. During Pandemic times and COVID I can see these strategies working well.


  • Good advice and tips, if time-outs work for your kids, sometimes it just simply doesn’t …..


  • Great tips
    Yes I think time outs worked well with my eldest 3, instead of “time out” we used “thinking time” on a “thinking chair”. For my youngest who has Down Syndrome I don’t think it works as well lately. When she was younger we used the playpen as time out place. Now she’s 6yr old she just runs of whatever time out place you give her and frequently doesn’t make the link with the behaviour that led to time out. Other strategies work better with her.

    • And before time outs there are many other things we can do; praise on positive behaviour, ignororing negative behaviour, natural & logic consequences or just a good chat and explenation


  • I’ve never used this method. I find explaining to them works wonders

    • I agree, time out should be a lost measure. Alternative and more positive approaches should be used first. I think there is too little emphasis on that in this article.


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