Time Out Doesn’t Work

Time Out Doesnt Work

It’s been one of those really rough days! Your child has been acting out and testing you with everything.

You’ve been patient and tried talking to him nicely. You’ve given warnings and reminders of behavior expectations hoping to get through to him. But now your patience is gone, and your frustration is at an all time high.

You are absolutely done with this behavior – It’s time for a time out!

When young children misbehave we want to send them away to a time-out space (typically a chair or their bedroom). We set a timer, walk away, and when the time is up we allow them to come back and join the group.

Kids of all ages fight and resist being sent to time-out. They cry and scream and yell.  The situation escalates into something much bigger than necessary.

You’re left with either a battle much harder than the original behavior really warranted or you’re forced to give up and walk away from the situation exhausted and defeated.

Originally, back in the 1960’s time-out was developed as an alternative to more harsh punishments like spanking and was considered a more positive practice for managing misbehavior. 

The thought behind time out was well intentioned. Time out would give children the space they needed to calm down, to think, and then to behave better. It was never intended to become another form of punishment. 

As researcher’s have studied the punitive nature that time-out has evolved into, and as we’re learning more about the brain and child development, we now know that time-out has negative effects on children, and very little learning (if any) comes from putting kids in time-out.

Isolating kids and sending them away to time-out (especially our little guys) when they’re misbehaving actually goes against what they really need when they’re acting out, which is more connection – not disconnection.

Your child sitting in time out is not thinking about what they did wrong. They’re not quietly contemplating how they can fix their behavior.  

Time out is focused solely on stopping unwanted behaviors. It does nothing to change the behaviors that get kids in trouble and sent to time out in the first place.

Time out also doesn’t teach the new skills or behaviors your child needs so they can behave better moving forward – and avoid being sent to time out.

Time-out is a broken tool.

When our kids challenge us with problematic behaviors rather than looking at the behavior and thinking how we can get rid of it (which usually means time out or punishment) we need to instead think of the behavior as communication.

Your child’s misbehavior is not random. All behavior has purpose and meaning. When we focus on behavior as communication it allows us to look at the behavior differently and we’ll respond differently. We can respond with more love, connection and support – it’s what kids need!

When we take time to sit with our kids, connect with them, and try to understand their behavior we create a space in our relationship for warm leadership in our parenting.  

Our children become more responsive to our support, coaching and guiding them to choose better behaviors in the future. After all isn’t that what it’s really all about- learning to make better behavior choices?

When we make the time for connection, focus on understanding the behavior, give kids time to self-regulate and feel calm, and we guide them through considering better behavior choices it’s called Time In.

Time in is responsive to meeting children’s needs. Traditional time-out, thinking children will figure it out while sitting alone is inaccurate parenting from the past.

Childhood is a time for learning and making mistakes. Our role as parents is not about having control over our children’s behavior but rather helping them develop important life skills (like their behavior choices) they need to be happy and successful. Building these skills takes time, support, patience, guidance and lots of time in.

If you’re right in the thick of it dealing with misbehavior, I hope you have found this post helpful.

If you’re at your wits end with your child’s behavior don’t hesitate to get in touch and we can see if I might be able to help. You can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Always remember children are individuals and there’s no one size fit’s all to parenting. It’s important to find the parenting that works best for you and your family.

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My work is dedicated to supporting parents and early childhood educators in understanding and reducing challenging behavior in young children at home and in the preschool classroom.

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