How Old for Timeouts?

Time-outs can be a useful way to remove children from a situation in which they aren’t able to control their actions. These are generally recommended from about 18 months old and up, when toddlers start to understand there can be consequences for their actions. 

In general, when discipline becomes necessary, find ways to distract and redirect your toddler, rather than resorting to threats or punishment, which are not effective teaching methods.

How to Use a Time-Out

The key to using a time-out effectively is to remember that it is a teaching moment, not a punishment. And all a toddler can manage is a moment. Time-outs should last no longer than 1 minute per year of age. An 18-month-old, therefore, needs no more than a minute and a half of time-out.

Calling a Time-Out

Gently place your toddler in a chair without any distractions as you tell him why he is not allowed to do the specific behavior that concerns you. Refocus him on you and your words—both to teach him and to calm him.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Time-outs should be used for calming down, rather than as punishment.
  • Pick a place where your child will spend time-outs regularly.
  • Designate a brief time-out period (30 seconds to 5 minutes—usually a minute per year of age).
  • Let your child know that you are not angry, but that he needs to stay in time-out until he is calm. (You may even wish to stay with him if your presence helps him gain self-control.)

Time-outs can be used to create a small space in which a child learns to calm himself and to move forward with other activities in a different frame of mind.

See also ...

•  Tips for minimizing defiant behavior

•  Time-outs as a form of discipline

•  Guidelines for using time-out

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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