How to use time-out on your toddler

By Dr Richard C. Woolfson   — June 07, 2018
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    Timeout is one method of handling your two-year-old when she misbehaves. It doesn’t work with every child, and should be used carefully and thoughtfully.

    The principle behind this technique is straightforward: If you remove an angry toddler from the event that caused her tantrum, she’s more likely to calm down, especially if she’s placed in a quiet spot. It can be used for a whole range of misbehaviour, mild or severe.

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  • 2 / 12

    A timeout works because it reduces that attention she gets from her misbehaviour. Placing her in a different part of the room, or to another altogether, puts the source of conflict (for instance, a toy or sibling) at a distance from her, while at the same time providing a change of scene.

    Another reason it often works is that it gives everyone some breathing space. But, the way you organise a timeout influences the outcome. Here’s how you should carry it out.

    Related: 8 secrets to toddler discipline

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  • Stay with her
    3 / 12 Stay with her

    Don’t leave her alone when you remove her because of her misbehaviour, as that would simply be solitary confinement, not a timeout.

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  • Control your temper
    4 / 12 Control your temper

    If you get angry yourself, that won’t help matters. Instead, be firm, calm and in control.

    Related: Toddler discipline: 10 common mistakes new parents make

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  • Use an area with no distractions
    5 / 12 Use an area with no distractions

    There’s no point in removing her from, say, her bedroom into the living room, where others are watching television.

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  • Use it for a short, fixed amount of time
    6 / 12 Use it for a short, fixed amount of time

    At this age, a timeout should last no more than three or four minutes. Finish it after that, even if she still rages.

    Related: 8 ways to manage your child’s tantrums better

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  • Explain why you're using a timeout
    7 / 12 Explain why you're using a timeout

    Tell her you’re removing her because of her bad behaviour. Emphasise that you want her to gain control of her temper.

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  • Avoid a wrestling match
    8 / 12 Avoid a wrestling match

    Don’t force her to stay in the timeout area, though try to make sure she remains there (for instance, stand in the doorway so she can’t get out).

    Related: Dealing with toddler tantrums

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  • Take her away when it's over
    9 / 12 Take her away when it's over

    Whether she’s calm or not, tell her you’re glad she has cooled down and let her return to her activities.

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  • Repeat it as often as necessary
    10 / 12 Repeat it as often as necessary

    Be ready to implement the timeout again if she’s still angry. For some toddlers, the effect is cumulative rather than instant.

    Related: Help your tot settle into childcare without tears

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    A timeout shouldn’t be used every time your toddler misbehaves or won’t cooperate.

    For instance, it’s not appropriate if she refuses to go to a party because she’s very shy, if she won’t touch a dog because she’s afraid of it, if she has a toilet “accident” at home or in playgroup, or even if she just has an uncharacteristic off day.

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    A less firm approach would be more helpful on such occasions.

    On the other hand, it will be effective for calming your toddler if she starts a verbal or physical fight with her pals or siblings, if she suddenly explodes with frustration while playing with a puzzle toy, if she makes a scene in front of her peers when she doesn’t get her way, or if she has been misbehaving all day.


    Related: 12 ways to use positive discipline with your child

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