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Feature Article


Using, not abusing, timeouts for kids

Story source: Saralee Jamieson, Human Development Specialist, St. Clair County, University of Missouri Extension


Many parents and grandparents use timeouts to removeboy in timeout a misbehaving child to a quiet setting before a no-win situation escalates out of hand. Although a timeout may seem trivial to an adult, it’s remarkably powerful for a child — if managed properly, said a University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.


“The child is learning that there are consequences of his misbehavior, without giving him the negative attention that comes with being yelled at or spanked,” said Saralee Jamieson.


Here are some guidelines:

  • Use timeouts sparingly, not for everything a child does wrong.
  • The rule of thumb for length of the timeout is one minute per year of the child’s age. For example, a 4-year-old would have a four-minute timeout, extending to five minutes when the child turns 5.
  • Because a young child’s attention span is so short, the timeout should begin as soon as the behavior occurs. Be willing to follow through on your warnings, even if you’re inconvenienced.
  • Be kind but firm. Tell the child briefly what he or she did wrong and what the preferred behavior is, but save further discussion until after the timeout. Have the child sit in a quiet place away from the center of activity.
  • Consider using a timer, so when a child asks “How much longer?” you can say that the buzzer will go off in whatever time is left.
  • When the timeout is finished, give your child a hug to show you’re not angry anymore.


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Last Updated 04/25/2011