For parents looking to know how to do an effective time out with their toddler or child, here is the ‘quick and dirty’ of how to use time out.
Say your child does something bad e.g. hits her little brother.
Remind yourself that she is trying to get your attention. So any response you give in that moment (even negative attention, like shouting at her) is reinforcing!
Speak only to give an initial warning. “Jessie, if you hit your little brother again you are going to time-out. This is your warning”
Continue with what you were doing. If she moves on and does not hit again, congratulate her and give attention to something good she is doing: “oh wow, that’s a pretty picture you are drawing!”. If she does hit again take the following steps.
Say ‘time out’ firmly but without shouting. Avoid any other conversation (see point 1)
Pick her up (gently) but avoid talking and ideally avoid eye contact and take her to any room with a door that can be closed. A glass door will not work as she can still see you. Remember you are trying to remove attention (not punish per-se).
As long as she cannot hurt herself in the room, close the door, and stand by it, holding the door knob if she is trying to exit.
Do not say a word or respond to anything she is doing inside the room (unless of course you are worried for her safety). Keep her in for the number of minutes corresponding to her age (i.e., a 2 year old would stay for 2 minutes).
Once the time is up, open the door, get down to her level and explain why she was put in time out, in a calm kind tone. “Jessie, I put you in time out because you hit your little brother and it is not nice to hit other people”.
Ask her to apologize to you and give her a big hug. You can also ask her to apologize to her brother for hitting him.
If she does it again, repeat the steps over and over and over. At the very least, even if nothing else is changing, you are at least giving yourself 2 minutes to calm down :-)
Time outs are an effective strategy to use, providing you have created a rich, loving, fun and caring environment for all the ‘time in’. If you think about it not as a punishment but rather as a way to remove attention from a behavior that you don’t want to reward, you will be able to use it correctly. Technically, if it wasn’t for the potential risk of leaving your child in the environment they were misbehaving in (i.e., with the little brother whom they are hitting), you could actually put yourself in time out instead! How many parents would welcome having two minutes peace for themselves!