How should I use time-outs with my toddler? Behavior & Discipline

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Boy sitting with his teddy bear in a corner.
iStock/PaulBiryukov
Time-outs -- brief periods of time where your toddler takes a "break" from a negative situation -- are a popular discipline technique, but not everyone agrees on how or whether to use them. See what an expert and other moms have to say, then decide if time-outs are right for your family.

Use Time-Outs Sparingly

"Time-outs should be used rarely with toddlers and only for aggressive behaviors. Say, 'No hitting!' Pick up your toddler and move him a few feet away from a spot where he is playing. Sit him down for about 30 seconds. Don't look at him or talk to him. Ignore whining or crying. If your child 'escapes' a time-out, let him at that age. But, if he continues to hit, repeat the time-out. Don't lock your child in her room. For a child who is escaping in a store, a form of time-out could be putting...

"Time-outs should be used rarely with toddlers and only for aggressive behaviors. Say, 'No hitting!' Pick up your toddler and move him a few feet away from a spot where he is playing. Sit him down for about 30 seconds. Don't look at him or talk to him. Ignore whining or crying. If your child 'escapes' a time-out, let him at that age. But, if he continues to hit, repeat the time-out. Don't lock your child in her room. For a child who is escaping in a store, a form of time-out could be putting him in a stroller for a minute."-- Elena Mikalsen, PhD, Mikalsen Psychological Services, San Antonio, TX

Choose Your Spot Wisely

"Putting my son on the couch for one minute isn't much of a time-out when he sits on the couch anyway, so he wouldn't associate it with a punishment. Try selecting a different spot, like a chair in the far corner of the room where he feels cut off from the fun, toys, and your attention."

Stay Calm and Don't Give In

"The first week you start doing time-outs is going to be rough. Your child is going to test you to see how far he can push. Don't give in, stay calm, and keep trying. The minute you give in is the minute he'll go back to misbehaving."

Try Not to Show Emotion

"Show her you are in control by not reacting to her. If she gets out of a time-out, put her back sternly, without yelling, pleading, or getting emotional."

Remember the Lesson

"You want to teach your child how to control his emotions, act kind, and all that good stuff. Time-out is a consequence to breaking a rule, and the idea behind it is being separated from everyone else and taking time to calm down before rejoining the group."

Try Calling It Something Else

"We call it 'taking a break' because we didn't want his bed to be associated with a time-out, which is a negative thing. Time-outs are absolute torture to him, but they work!"

The advice on CafeMom aims to educate, inform, and provide a range of solutions to the issues moms care about. It is not a substitute for consultation with a medical professional or treatment for a specific condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified professional. Please contact your health-care provider with questions and concerns.