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Is time-out okay for kids?

I’ve always understood that time-out was a reasonable way to deal with behaviour issues. Now I’m seeing some articles suggesting that time-out has had its day. Is time-out OK and if not, what’s the alternative?

Generally there will be a reason for behaviour issues, which may not seem logical to us as parents. Children experience really big feelings that they sometimes aren't equipped to 'deal' with like we are as adults. Trying to understand what the 'scale tip' has actually been in order to support the child & their issue should hopefully prevent the need for time out. Another option can be just taking the time to 'be' with a child, where we just stop (what we are doing) & drop (to the child's level) in order to be with the child in their moment & support them out of it.

Kylie Romero

Kylie Romero

Early Learning Consultant, Goodstart Early Learning

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Time-outs do not work. There’s almost universal agreement that they aren’t effective, so we should not really use them. Let’s unpack why. As I said in an article on The Conversation <<>>, time-outs do not help children understand right from wrong.

Why? They encourage the child to believe they are so bad, you’ve removed love and affection from them (see here <<>>).

As such, they are a fear device; they teach the child to fear our withdrawal of affection. They also don’t help children learn to regulate their emotions. It helps to see behaviour as an expression of an unmet need <<>>, thus, teaching the child to regulate their emotions teaches them to regulate their behaviour.

We need to help the child work through the upset and the feelings in order to restore appropriate behaviour.  Finally, they are a punishment that has no relationship with the ‘crime’. Why are they put in a room? How long for? What’s the relationship between behaviour and the consequence? There is none.

If we want children to learn to regulate their behaviour, we need to let them see a natural consequence. The best option, if everyone needs to calm down, is a time-in. This strategy asks children to go into a quiet place with the parent and do whatever it takes to calm down. They will be angry, it is your job to stay calm, and ‘above the fray’. The only time out that is appropriate is a parental time out. All of us need some time calm down sometimes. Do whatever you need to move to a place of calm so you can help your child to understand whatever they’re doing isn’t appropriate. If we take a time-out, we also model appropriate emotional regulation for our child.

Dr Rebecca English

Dr Rebecca English

Lecturer, Faculty of Education (QUT)

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Wow this is a controversial one and one where there are polarised views and conflicting analysis of the evidence. So here I go ....... Time out was never intended to be used when children are emotionally out of control and need the support of an adult to help them organise their feelings as they may not have the skills to do so. Some people refer to these episodes as needing "Time-in" so adults support children to organise their feelings.

Time out is not a practice that is used in early learning settings; rather it is a parenting stategy.

There is an abundance of evidence that supports "Time out" (as an effective strategy) however we should look for the message behing behaviour and offer new more proscial behaviours for children to be successful.

Time out is a non-hurtful and non-violent way to teach a child a lesson about unacceptable behaviours without overwhelming them with negative emotions assoicated with shame ( yellling) or aggression ( physical punishment). It involves the child being removed from reinforcement by having them go to a place that is apart from interesting activities, and other people for a short period of time following high intensity or unacceptable behaviour. Time out should be used as a last resourt when other strategies have been tried ( Baldwin, Mildon, Antcliff, Iannos, 2013).

Cautionary note

Time out should only be taught to a parent or caregiver who also uses adequate 'time in' periods with the child.

Helpful Hints

A child should be in time out for 1 minute per year of age; for example, a seven year old child will be in time out for seven minutes. This practice is not recommended for children under the age of 3 years.

Time out is best used in the context of other positve behavioural strategies. A metaphor that is commonly used is to ensure that you make 6 deposits into a child's emotional bank account ( descriptive praise and noticing prosocial behaviours) before you can make a withdrwal ( in the form of a correction of their behaviour).

For more informaiton see :


Greg Antcliff

Greg Antcliff

National Manager, Professional Practice at Goodstart Early Learning

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