Max Learns About Time-Outs

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Max Learns About Time-outs

Max was a busy little unicorn. He was two years old and when he was happy, he was the happiest unicorn in the world and when he was mad, he was the maddest unicorn in the world. He would get up in the morning with a big smile and then he would run and run and neigh and neigh. There always seemed to be so many things to see and do.

Mommy Unicorn was always telling Max what to do and what NOT to do. She would tell him to get up because he needed to go to Jan’s house while she went to work. Or she would tell him to hold still so she could get his clothes on. Max didn’t want to hold still. He wanted to wiggle and giggle.

When Max was at Jan’s there was a schedule to follow. There was breakfast time, outside time, work time, naptime, and snack time, clean up time, music time and then wait time. Sometimes the ‘wait time’ while he waited for Mommy or Daddy Unicorn to pick him up seemed liked the longest time of the day.

By the time Max got home he was tired and grumpy. He didn’t want to be good or hold still. He didn’t want to share toys with his big sister, Ella. He didn’t want to do anything. When Ella told him to share, he hit her.

“Max, you may be tired and angry, but you know that if you hit, you will be in time-out!” his mommy exclaimed. She picked him up and put him on the living room couch. She held the timer and said, “You need to sit there for two minutes until the timer makes a noise.” Max slumped on the couch. He lay on the couch and then he got off the couch. His mommy said, “Max, if you get off the couch I have to start the timer over again” and then she picked him up and put him back on the couch and reset the timer. This time Max sat on the couch and when the timer rang his mommy said, “Okay, you can get off the couch but no hitting.”

Max went back to the toy box and started playing with his truck. His sister came over and put her face close to his face and asked if he wanted to have a tea party. Max didn’t want to have a tea party and he didn’t like his sister so close so he pushed her.

Mommy proclaimed, “Max, if you kick, hit, bite or push people you will be in time-out!” and then she picked him up and carried him back to the couch. Max sat on the couch with a scowl on his face and when the timer rang he got off the couch and lay down on the floor.

Mommy looked at Max and thought, “I know just how he feels—sometimes I want to lie on the floor as well!”

Mommy picked Max up and hugged him. She whispered, “I love you. I think we are all tired now but after dinner and a rest let’s go for a walk with Dad. Come play with your plastic containers in the kitchen while I finish supper.”

When dinner, walk, bath and story time were done, Max fell fast asleep.

The next morning Max woke up all smiles and giggles. He wiggled while his mommy tried to dress him and Mommy gave up and tickled him.

She put his clothes in his backpack and carried him down to breakfast. She told him to remember that if he hit, pushed or bit anyone that he would be in time-out either at home or at Jan’s. She showed him the timer and let him play with it and learn how it worked. She said, “Remember if I have to reset the timer because you get out of time-out, it takes longer until the noise happens.”

Then they talked about the outing he was going to have at Jan’s house that day. They were going to the zoo!

When Max got home that night he was very tired. Mommy Unicorn got everyone some orange juice and they all sat on the couch and watched Sesame Street together.

Later that evening Ella asked Max if she could borrow his truck.

Max didn’t want to lend Ella his truck and he wanted to push her away but he didn’t want to go to time-out. So he just said, “No” and Ella went away and found another truck. Mommy Unicorn said, “Good job, not pushing.”

When Daddy Unicorn came home that night Mommy Unicorn said, “Max and Ella had a busy day and saw a lot of animals at the zoo. Max has done very well this evening. I think he understands if you hit, push or bite, no one wants to be with you so that you have to be by yourself for a few minutes in time-out.”

The family ate sandwiches for dinner, Max and Ella had a bath and then they had story time. They read a book about a little boy who had trouble with his temper. When he got mad he hit his brother and had to go to time-out. The story made Max giggle because even little boys had time-outs, not just little unicorns!

Then Daddy and Mommy Unicorn kissed Ella and Max goodnight and Max fell fast asleep. He was a very happy, and a very tired, little unicorn.


It is important to remember that discipline always works best if there is a natural or logical consequence to the action. In this case it makes logical sense that if the child hits or kicks or is aggressive, he should go to time-out. Nobody wants to be around someone who is aggressive so that person has to be alone.

A simple example of logical and natural discipline is the following:

If your child is climbing on a chair and you are afraid that he might fall, you can tell him to sit in or get off the chair because he may fall. If he falls, you can say, “Oops, I was afraid of that”. Let his action teach him consequences. If falling is too risky, tell your child that he will need to sit in the chair or get off the chair because you are afraid that he will fall. If he continues to climb, remove him from the chair. Problem is solved; there is no need for punishments or bribes or time-outs.

Sometimes it is tempting to say to a child that he won’t get a treat such as a lollipop if he doesn’t behave. Such a ploy will often backfire. Before long he is testing how many times he can climb in the chair before losing the treat, or if one child behaves and another child doesn’t, you’re faced with the situation of one child eating a lollipop in front of the other child. It is always best to think why we want our children to do something and what the natural or logical consequences are if they don’t do it.

It is also important to have plenty of ‘time in’ when raising children. “Catch them being good” is one of the hardest but most important rules in parenting. A cardinal rule in all relationships—with spouses, employer-employee, family or friends—is to say 10 nice things for every “critical suggestion”. As a parent your words weigh heavy with your child who is acutely aware of your approval or disapproval.

In this story the “snuggle time” while watching Sesame Street defuses some of the tension built up by a busy, exhausting day. It allows the children and their mommy to re-charge in a positive manner. If you are having recurrent battles with your child, you need to change the routine of your day or the setting of the battles. I can remember coming home from work after picking up my children from day care and just wanting 20 minutes to change my clothes and start dinner. Invariably my children would start to fight or whine. I learned to come home, get everyone a drink, and sit on the floor and watch something peaceful on TV. After a little cuddle time, everyone would relax and tell me about their day. Then I could change clothes and do a few simple tasks to start the evening.

It is also very helpful to tell children what to do, not just what not to do. . Telling him to come play in the kitchen while she made dinner gave Max something to do while Mommy finished her task. Smart phones and tablets have made waiting much easier for parents who frequently share these tools with their children. I do often see parents using their phones and telling their children to sit still and “quit it” as the children start to whine. It is much more effective to have a plan of what your children should do—not just what they should not. It is very hard to “just sit and be still” for any period of time and almost impossible for young children.

There is usually a time in your child’s development when she needs to learn not to be aggressive. During this period, it can seem that you are always putting her in time- out. Don’t despair. If you consistently don’t tolerate aggressive activity, within a few weeks the hitting or other aggressive actions will greatly diminish and your evenings will return to a pleasant time to share with your children—not a series of time-outs.

It is important to know that good studies have shown that children see spankings and “hand slapping” by adults as aggressive acts. Children who are spanked have fewer social skills and more trouble controlling anger than children who are taught self-control by time-outs. The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends that parents never use physical punishment with children. Any short-term behavior improvements due to physical punishment quickly stop. Children who are physically punished have more serious emotional problems and more legal trouble than children who are disciplined by other means.

The following is a detailed handout on how to do time-outs. With his permission, I adapted this handout from Dr. Christophersen, who wrote “Little People: Guidelines for Common Sense Child Rearing”.


Time-out involves placing your child in a separate area (i.e. chair or room) for a short period of time following the occurrence of an unacceptable behavior. This procedure has been effective in reducing problem behaviors, such as tantrums, hitting, biting, leaving the yard without permission, and others. Parents have found that time-out works better than spanking, yelling, or threatening their children. This handout is most appropriate for children from 18 months through 10 years.


1. You should purchase a small portable kitchen timer.

2. A place for time-out should be selected. This could be a chair in the hallway, kitchen, or corner of a room. It needs to be a dull place, where your child cannot view the television or play with toys. It should not be a dark, scary, or dangerous place. The aim is to remove your child to a place where not much is happening, not to make your child afraid.

3. You should discuss with your child which behaviors will result in a time-out. Consistency is very important. It is also very important that you only try to correct a few problem behaviors at a time.


Before using time-out discipline, you should practice using it with your child at a pleasant time. Tell your child there are two rules when in time-out.

RULE 1: The timer will start when he is quiet. Ask your child what would happen if he talks or makes noises when in time-out. Your child should say the timer will be reset or something similar. If he does not say this, remind him of the rule.

RULE 2: If he gets off the chair or leaves the room before the timer rings, you will replace him in the chair or room.

Mention to your child you will be using this technique instead of spanking, yelling, or threatening. Most children are pleased to learn this.


STEP l: Following an inappropriate behavior, say to the child, “0h you… (describe what the child did, e.g. “Hit your sister, go to time-out please”.) Say this calmly and only once. It is important not to lose your temper or begin nagging. If your child has problems getting to the time-out quickly, guide him with as little effort as needed. This can range from leading the child part way by hand to carrying the child. If you have to carry your child, be sure to hold him facing away from you so he doesn’t confuse a hug with a trip to time-out.

Step 2: When your child is in time-out and quiet, set the timer for a specific number of minutes. The rule of thumb is one minute for each year of age up to five minutes. A 2-year-old would have two minutes; a 3-year-old, three minutes; and a 5-year-old, five minutes. For children five years and above, five minutes is the maximum amount of time. Sometimes less time is required. You want the time-out to last only long enough for your child to quiet down and understand that the behavior that got him into time-out will not be tolerated.

STEP 3: After your child has been quiet and seated for the required amount of time, the timer will ring. Go to the time-out chair and ask your child if he would like to get up. Do not speak from across the room. A nod of the head or a positive or neutral answer is required. Answering in an angry tone of voice or refusing to answer is not acceptable.

STEP 4: After your child finishes a time-out period, he should start with a “clean slate”. It is not necessary to discuss, remind or nag about what the child did wrong. It would be wise to take your child to a different part of the house and start himin a new activity. Within five minutes after a time-out, look for and praise good behavior. Remember,“Catch ‘em being good”.


            For Parent:

  • Decide which behaviors will result in a time-out. Discuss these with your child. It is good to write these rules down so that you and your child remember them.
  • Don’t leave your child in time-out and forget him.
  • Don’t nag, scold, or talk to your child when she is in time-out. All family members should follow this rule!
  • Remain calm—take some deep breaths if needed—particularly when your child is being testy.
  • For Children:
  • Go immediately to time-out when you’re asked to. Don’t argue.
  • Remain quiet and stay on the time-out chair or room until you are asked to get down. You will spend less time in the time-out chair that way.
  • Brothers and Sisters:
  •  If you tease, laugh at, or talk with your brother or sister while she is in time- out, you may be placed in time-out.


1. Be sure you are not warning your child one (or more) times before sending him or her to the time-out. Warnings only teach your child that he or she can misbehave at least once (or more) before you’ll use time-out. Warnings only make things worse, not better.Be certain that behaviors which are going to result in a time-out are discussed at the beginning of the day, before any rules are broken. If you are not in your home, have a designated time-out place—a car seat or a spot on the curb. Never leave your child alone in the car but you can stand outside with the window open. Threatening a time- out as a punishment later in the day is never a good idea and is very hard to enforce.

2. All adults who are responsible for disciplining your child at home should be using the time-out. You should agree when and for what your child will get a time-out.

3. In order to maximize the effectiveness of time-out, you must make the rest of the day pleasant for your child. Remember to let your child know when he or she is well behaved rather than taking good behavior for granted (“Catch ‘em being good”). Most children would prefer being disciplined than to be ignored.

4. Your child may say, “Going to time-out doesn’t bother me”, or “I like time- out.” Do not fall for this trick. Many children try to convince their parents that time-out is fun and therefore it is not working. You should notice that the problem behaviors for which you use time-out occur less often (time-out is not supposed to be a miserable experience).

5. When you first begin using time-out, your child may act like time-out is a “game” or behave badly (cursing, spitting). He or she may put herself in time- out or ask to go to time-out. If this happens, give your child what he or she wants—that is, put him or her in time-out and require your child to sit quietly for the required amount of time. Your child will soon learn that time-out is not a game. Your child may also laugh or giggle when being placed in time-out or while in time-out. Although this may aggravate you, it is important for you completely ignore your child when he or she is in time-out.

6. You must use time-out for major and minor behavioral problems. Parents have a tendency to feel that time-out is not enough of a punishment for big things and thereby discipline inconsistently. Consistency is most important for time- out to work for big and small problems.

Choose your battles wisely. Don’t use time-out for every little infraction. Too many time-outs may mean you are being too strict. Time-outs are best used for aggressive misbehavior because it makes logical sense that if you are hitting, kicking or biting no one wants to be around you.

Most of parenting and discipline involve helping your child to understand the logical or natural consequences of his or her actions. If you explain that if she runs out into the street, a car may hit her, it is easier for your child to understand the rule of not running into the street. You have explained the natural consequence of running into the street. If she goes into the street, you will have to make her come inside or play only in the back yard. This is the logical consequence of her actions. Teaching your child why you ask her to do certain things is how you prepare her to make good decisions by herself. If you can’t think of a logical reason why you want her to do certain things it may not matter if she does them.

Helping your children to understand how they feel—angry, tired, sad or full of energy—teaches them to understand and plan their actions. It is a good idea to anticipate when misbehaviors will occur and give your child another suggestion of what to do. Sometimes a “Time Away” (see “Mommy Unicorn Has a Time Away”) can prevent a time-out. Most importantly, have lots of hugging and tickling time planned into your lives.


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