A Case Against Time-Out

time-outI believe strongly in giving people the benefit of the doubt.  So when I think about time-out, I’m sure it was created with good intentions.  Having a child sit on a spot, in a naughty chair, or on a step, one minute for each year of their age, must have come from someplace good.  Both parent and child have a minute to regain their composure and in the best of cases the child returns to play and doesn’t commit the crime again.  Problem is, most children learn nothing from simply sitting for a minute, and being left on a step, spot or chair, can cause anxiety, fear, and confusion.  I encourage parents consider discipline, not as a bad word, but rather as an opportunity; a teachable moment.  I’m realistic enough to know that sometimes, it’s in everyone’s best interest to remove a child from a challenging situation.  What we do with that child once we remove them is the key.  I suggest the “take a break” technique.


When a child hits (or does something else that is not okay in your family), make eye contact, turn the child towards you, and firmly say “No Hitting.”  The tone should be different than your regular voice.  You can put your hand in the air (palm facing the child like a stop sign) to give the child a visual cue, as well. Check in with the other child.  This is a great way to model empathy for your child.  The second time your child hits, again tell him or her, “No hitting.” Walk them to a quieter place and have them sit in your lap.  Some children prefer not to be held.  The most important thing is to stay close so that you are available if your child needs you.


Depending upon your toddlers’ age the language you use here will vary.  For a younger toddler you might say, “take a break.  Calm your body.”  For an older toddler you could add in “hitting is not safe.  You need to calm your body.  I am here to help you if you need me.” Remind him or her “when you are calm, you can play.” When the child’s body has relaxed, send them back to play with a positive statement like “play safely,” or “hands on your own body.”  When your child is calmer, point it out. Say, “you’re ready! Your body is calm. Now you can play.”  Then stay close so that you are available to model how to problem solve if something comes up again.  The goal is to teach them that what they did was not okay, but that they can calm their bodies and try again.  You are there to help them learn to be successful!

(UPDATE: Many parents have asked about having the child say sorry for their wrong doing.  Check out my post about the words “I’m Sorry” and other ways to check-in.)

For more information on “take a break” and other positive discipline techniques that work, check out www.DanasKids.com