Disciplining your child is an integral part of effective parenting, but it can be hard for parents and children, particularly when it comes to using consistent behavior management strategies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using time out as a strategy to discourage inappropriate behavior in children ages 18-48 months. If you are still mastering the art of a time out or are looking for ways to make it more effective, here are some tips that can help.
Isolate immediately—Toddlers have a short attention span, and it’s important for them to link cause and effect by associating their undesirable behavior with the time out. Making empty threats takes away from time out’s effectiveness and could result in your child pushing your limits. Establish an area of your home, such as a playpen or small chair facing a corner, that is quiet and free from stimulation. Time outs should be supervised, so places such as a closet, basement, or garage are inappropriate.
Establish the behaviors that equal time out—Time outs should be for misbehavior, not for behaviors that are more annoying (such as yelling or tugging on your clothing) than they are inappropriate. Establish 3-5 behaviors that are time out worthy. This allows your child to associate a behavior with the expected discipline. Examples of behaviors that might need time out include hitting, throwing a tantrum, picking on a brother or sister, or repeatedly refusing a request.
Make the right time for time out—While the appropriate time out duration can vary based on your child, the general rule of thumb is one minute for every one year of age your child is. A 24-month-old would get two minutes of time out, for example. Remember there is a difference between time out and isolation. Time outs that last between 15 and 20 minutes are too long. Do not end the time out early for good or bad behavior, such as yelling.
Use the W-A-I-S-T Strategy—The University of Florida IFAS Extension recommends the WAIST acronym for effective time outs:
- W is for Warn—Use one warning only, such as “Rebecca, if you do not stop hitting your sister, you will be in time out.”
- A is for Announce—Clearly explain why your child is in time out, such as “Rebecca, because you didn’t stop hitting your sister, you are going to time out.”
- I is for Ignore—Your child will likely try to bargain their way out of time out. Standing firm makes this strategy more effective.
- S is for Start—Start the time out immediately, and tell your child the time out is not up for discussion.
- T is for Talk—After your child has a time out, you can give them the chance to talk about the behavior. However, time out must be a clean slate for you as a parent. Do not continue to make a child feel punished after they have already had a time out.
Remember, the most effective discipline is positive reinforcement for the good things your child does instead of negative reinforcement for “bad” or undesirable behaviors. Take opportunities throughout the day to recognize your child for good behaviors when he or she exhibits them. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if these or other behavior management strategies prove ineffective.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- Time out should not be overly long or in an area where you cannot supervise your child.
- Use roughly one minute for every year your child is old.
- Establish behaviors that will earn your child a time out, such as hitting or screaming.