Children have been put in time out for as long as children and parents can remember. Experts and parents usually agree that time out can be a great tool for correcting unwanted behavior in children of all ages. In smaller toddlers it can be a chance for the parent and the child to both cool off, and in older children it will allow them to reflect on what they have done wrong. Soon enough, toddlers will learn that when they do something wrong, they end up in time out and the normal response is to start avoiding that action.
Time Outs and the Toddler
Time outs are a useful tool with toddlers because it is a great way to show children that there is a consequence for every action. When you throw sand at someone or hit someone or throw a toy you will be removed from the situation and you will have to be by yourself. This is not fun for a toddler and it forces them to see the link between unwanted behavior and what they perceive as a negative experience.
The key is not how many time outs a toddler has each day, but in the message that is getting across to them during these time outs. Another important factor is that the time out is neither too long or nor too short. A good rule of thumb is that the child has to spend as many minutes in time out as they are old in years. So, a two year old would spend two minutes in time out and a four year old would have four minutes in time out. It may not sound like a long time, but you’ll find in the world of a toddler that it is an excruciatingly long time.
Time outs should only be used when the toddler has really done something inappropriate and the parent needs a tool in correcting the behavior. For instance, if your child accidentally spills their milk this is not a time for timeout, rather it is a time to talk about being more careful. If your child throws his or her cup of milk, this is a time for time out. You can place the child in timeout while you attempt to clean up, but when time out is over it needs to be discussed as to why this is inappropriate behavior.
The most important key to time out is being consistent. If something is serious enough for time out once it should be every time. Your child will then learn that the consequence is always time out, something that they do not like. If you talk about why they were put in timeout afterward, you will find that the incidence of timeouts will lessen as they get older.