How To Know If You Are Using Time-Outs Correctly

At Westchester Health, we believe in time-outs. We’ve seen through the years that when used correctly, they really are effective in managing a child’s misbehavior or unacceptable action. As far as length of the time-out, we recommend that the number of minutes should equal the age of the child (e.g., 4 years = 4 minutes). If the misbehavior is repeated, the length of the time-out should be increased or even doubled. However, a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported that the vast majority of parents are not using time-outs correctly. Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group, recently posted a blog about this very topic, which we summarize here.

 The AAP study noted that most parents did not follow correct time-out practices.

The most common mistake, the study found, was giving the child multiple warnings before putting him/her in time-out. For example, some parents told the child things like, “I’m going to count to three. One…two…two-and-a-quarter…two-and-a-half….” Or they talked to the child during time-out, or they allowed the child access to toys, books, electronics or other people.


Mason Gomberg, MD

All of these parent behaviors undermine and even negate the purpose and effectiveness of the time-out, which is designed to help the child understand what he/she did wrong and to be willing to change the behavior.

Guidelines for when and how to put a child in time-out

Ideally, a parent should give one warning prior to imposing a time-out. If the warning is not heeded, a time-out is warranted, with a short reason for why (no hitting, no biting, etc.). There should be no stimulation during time-outs, including talking to or lecturing the child. If the child tries to escape from “detention,” the parent should return the child to the time-out area with minimal interactions and should restart the time.

Got questions about time-outs? Come see us.

With years of experience helping parents raise happy, healthy kids, we at Westchester Health can honestly say that from time to time, time-outs serve an important role in a child’s growing-up process. Although time-outs are often as hard on the parents to administer as they are on the child to get them, if they are done properly and consistently, they will work, serving to create healthy boundaries in your child’s world. And take it from us, this will make life a lot easier in the future. If you want to talk about time-outs or any other aspect of your child’s health, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

To read Dr. Gomberg’s blog in full, click here.

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