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4 Tips for Putting a Child in Time Out

Time out has become one of the most widely used disciplinary techniques by parents. The psychological idea behind time out is that the undesirable target behavior of a child (or anyone for that matter) is being maintained by either the reinforcing social attention the child receives as a result of the behavior or some other reinforcer inherent in the situation itself, such as getting a toy away from another child.

When little Johnny performs the target behavior, he’s taken to a designated time-out area, thus removing him from whatever reinforcers are present in the situation. Also, no potential reinforcers should be present in the time-out area that could provide the child with reinforcement while on time out.

  • Time-out time periods should be brief (five minutes or less), and the child should know how long the time period will last. A lot of parents leave their children in time out for too long. Younger children only need about one minute of time out for every year of their age — 4 years old: four minutes. Simple.

  • No reinforcers should be available during the time-out period. Using the playroom as a time-out area is not recommended. That’s like suspending a kid who hates school to begin with. Thanks!

  • Time out should end when the time is up and the child is behaving appropriately. If he or she is still acting up, extend time out for another designated time period.

  • Time out shouldn’t be used by kids as an escape to get out of doing things that they didn’t want to do in the first place. It requires some skill to determine when a child is manipulating the use of time out for this purpose. If children attempt to pull this trick, make them do whatever they were trying to avoid when they get out of time out.

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