Time out for "Time-out"
The purpose of discipline for young children is to teach coping skills and
discourage inappropriate behavior. "Time-out" is not a first choice,
but a last resort technique for a child who is harming another or in danger of
harming herself. Used infrequently and for very brief periods (no longer than
two or three minutes), time-out may give a child the opportunity to calm down
and cool off after a frustrating situation. Used often or inappropriately,
time-out may not only be ineffectualit may be damaging to the child.
The early years are a time for children to develop confidence and
self-control. When adults create environments that respect each individual
child, they set forth a message that the world is a warm, friendly learning
place. Positive discipline techniques that combine caring and direction are a
part of this healthy environment. Adults should look for meaningful ways to show
children why harmful and aggressive acts are unacceptable.
Before you give a child time-out, make sure of the following:
- Adults avoid using time-out for infants and toddlers. Very young children
should not be isolated, nor should they be ignored or left without proper
stimulation. Infants or young toddlers who do not understand why their behavior
is unacceptable should gently be directed to more acceptable behaviors or
- Your expectations of a child's behavior are realistic. A general knowledge
of child development will help you identify when children are merely
experimenting with their boundaries and when they are behaving inappropriately.
When adults give children realistic goals, children feel good about themselves
and are more likely to cope successfully with stressful situations.
- Consequences immediately follow the child's behavior. When children
experience immediate repercussions for harming others, they understand more
clearly why we are disciplining them. Whenever possible, adults should offer
children positive alternatives to their actions (asking a child to help rebuild
a block structure she has knocked down is more productive than removing her
from the area entirely).
- Time-out should not be humiliating, nor should it make children feel
threatened or afraid. There should not be a special chair or area assigned for
time-outthis reinforces the idea that time-out is a punishment and may
cause undue anxiety. Adults should never make a child feel ridiculed or isolated
during time-out periods.
- The child should not be left alone, unless he wants to be. Young children
need adults' support to work out their feelings. If adults show children that
their feelings count, they will be more likely to respect the feelings of
others. A caregiver should always visually observe a child during a time-out
- Time out does not last longer than it takes for the child to calm down.
After the child calms down, explain clearly what is appropriate and
inappropriate behavior. There should be no ambiguity about why we have
disciplined the child, otherwise the child is more likely to repeat the
The child feels safe with the knowledge that people care for her. Remember that
children imitate adults' behavior. Screaming, hitting, or ridiculing a child
for bad behavior is not an effective way to teach self-control.
- Tailor the method of discipline to the individual child. Children develop
their abilities to control themselves at different rates. Take into
consideration the needs of the particular child involved. No single technique
will work with every child every time.
- Time-out is not used as a
punishment. Time-out is an opportunity for a child to clear her mind and rejoin
the group or activity in a more productive state. Teach a child how to solve her
own problems with love and support, and time-out may no longer be necessary.
Greenberg, P. 1991. Character development: Encouraging self-esteem &
self-discipline in infants, toddlers, & two-year-olds. Washington,
DC: NAEYC. #175/$8.
Honig, A.S. 1989. Love & learn: Discipline for young children.
Washington, DC: NAEYC. #528/50¢.
Slaby, R., W.C. Roedell, D. Arezzo, & K. Hendrix. 1995. Early
violence prevention: Tools for teachers of young children. Washington,
DC: NAEYC. #325/$7.
Stone, J.G. 1969. A guide to discipline. Washington, DC:
From the National Association for the Education of Young Children
Copyright © 1997 by National Association for the Education of Young
Children. Reproduction of this material is freely granted, provided credit is
given to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.