Time-Outs For Toddlers (Are They Good or Bad?)



Are Time-Outs Helpful or Harmful?


It’s an age-old debate: are time-outs bad for kids?

Now, a new study suggests that despite sometimes getting a bad rap in the news, the common disciplinary strategy isn’t linked to harmful effects in children.


Time Out Controversy


30% of websites portray time-out negatively.


“Some reports in the media and by select organizations have suggested that time-out is ineffective and even harmful,” says lead author Rachel Knight, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

A previous Mott-led study found that close to 30% of websites portrayed time-out negatively. Some have criticized the disciplinary strategy as having the opposite desired effect, possibly leading to escalating problem behaviors.

A high-profile 2014 Time Magazine article “Are Time-Outs Hurting Your Children?” also recently re-ignited the debate.

“There are some alarming claims that time-outs can damage the parent-child relationship and negatively affect emotional health. But the research simply doesn’t support those claims. We did not find a relationship between time-outs and negative side effects in children.”


Study Result


Researchers analyzed national data from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation study tracking families at three different time points.

Children’s positivity and negativity towards parents, mental health and social skills were among measures evaluated at 36 months-old, pre-kindergarten and in fifth grade.

The researchers compared emotional and behavioral health between kids whose parents reported using time-outs and those who didn’t over a roughly eight-year period.

The result: no difference.


Time-out and non-time out kids’ emotional/behavioral health were compared.


There was no association between reported use of time-outs and negative symptoms in later childhood, including anxiety, depression, internalizing or externalizing problems, aggression, rule-breaking behavior, or self-control, according to the findings in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

There also weren’t any differences in the measure of creativity when the children were about to enter kindergarten.


There was no association between reported use of time-outs and negative symptoms in later childhood.


Knight says that she and fellow children’s health experts were concerned by the amount of inaccurate information widely available about time-outs.

“Parents are constantly questioning whether they are doing the right thing for their children,” she says.

“Unfortunately the first place many parents go for advice is the Internet, social media or friends—not a medical provider. There is a lot of conflicting information on the Web that isn’t vetted or accurate.”


The controversy surrounding timeouts has proven unfounded.


Parents may not be aware that time-out is one of the only child discipline strategies currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Knight says.

Time-out has been shown to be effective in addressing behavior challenges across several ages, including infants, toddlers and preschoolers, school-age children and adolescents.


Time-out is one of the only a couple of child discipline strategies currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.


“There’s a wealth of research on how effective time-outs can be in reducing problematic behavior when they are used appropriately,” she says. “It’s a parenting strategy that’s often misunderstood and misused.”


Consistency and Calmness are Key


Pre-planning and a calm demeanor are important.


Consistency, structure, a calm demeanor and positive environment are keys to effectively using time-outs, Knight says.

The process should be pre-planned and understood by both parents and children rather than being introduced in the heat of the moment to avoid yelling or scolding.


  A wealth of research shows that time-outs can be very effective in reducing problematic behavior.


“Catching” a child exhibiting good behavior is also just as important as enforcing consequences when they break the rules, she notes.

Further studies are needed, Knight says, to continue evaluating specific claims made against time outs and both their short-term and long-term effects across different populations and ages.

Experts also need to find more effective ways to communicate evidence-based information to parents and caregivers.

“As we further our understanding about how different parenting strategies impact children, we need to present findings in an easily digestible and accessible way for the public,” she says.


Remember that “catching” a child exhibiting good behavior is also very important.


“Our goal is to debunk misconceptions and promote the use of highly effective, evidence-based strategies that will best guide parents and families.”


How to Give a Time Out


Time-out painting by Carl Larsson


Giving a child a time-out can be a useful tool to help them cool down and learn good behavior.

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.


The Basics of a Time-Out—By the Numbers:


1.      Warn your child first, “If you don’t stop, you’ll have a time-out.”

2.      Name the behavior (i.e., “don’t hit”).

3.      Have your child go to a quiet place, like a corner of a room, not the bedroom or a play room.

4.      Start the timer—1 minute for each year of age. For example:

  • 2 years old = 2 minutes
  • 3 years old = 3 minutes
  • 4 years old = 4 minutes
  • 5 years old = 5 minutes

5.      If your child leaves the time out area, have her go back. If she throws a tantrum during time-out, ignore it unless there is danger of harm.

6.      Restart the timer. Explain that he needs to “stay put” until it’s over.


Should You Use a Timer?



With children who are at least 3 years old, parents can try letting their children lead their own time-out.

You can just say, “Go to time out and come back when you feel ready and in control.” This can take the place of the timer and help the child learn and practice self-management skills.

This strategy also works well for older children and teens.


Take Your Own Time-Out



Correcting a child’s behavior can be hard and, sometimes, frustrating. If you start to feel stressed or out of control, you can take a time-out for yourself.

First make sure your child is in a safe place, like a playpen, crib, or bedroom. Then, do something you find relaxing, like listening to music, reading or meditation.

When you feel calm, go hug your child and start fresh. 


Time-Out Tips


  • Grandparents and other caregivers can learn how time-outs work, too. Like with all discipline tools, the key is trying to use time-outs the same way each time for the behavior you want to stop.
  • Don’t over-use time-outs.  Try other positive ways to correct your child’s behavior.
  • You can always talk with your pediatrician for more ideas. 

(reference:  the American Academy of Pediatrics)


Recommended Reading



How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen

– A Survival Guide to Life With Children 2-7


What do you do with a little kid who…won’t brush her teeth…screams in his car seat…pinches the baby…refuses to eat vegetables…throws books in the library…runs rampant in the supermarket?

Organized by common challenges and conflicts, How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen is an essential manual of communication strategies, including a chapter that addresses the special needs of children with sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders.

This user-friendly guide will empower parents and caregivers of young children to forge rewarding, joyful relationships with terrible two-year-olds, truculent three-year-olds, ferocious four-year-olds, foolhardy five-year-olds, self-centered six-year-olds, and the occasional semi-civilized seven-year-old.

And, it will help little kids grow into self-reliant big kids who are cooperative and connected to their parents, teachers, siblings, and peers.

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen has fantastic reviews!


The New Dare To Discipline


Why are boundaries so important? Do children really want limits set on their behavior? My spouse doesn’t seem to care about discipline; why I am I stuck being the “bad guy?” Is it okay to spank my child, or will it lead him to hit others and become a violent person?

Millions of caring parents have found answers in the wisdom of parenting authority and family counselor Dr. James Dobson.

The New Dare to Discipline is a revised and updated edition of the classic bestseller, designed to help you lead your children through the tough job of growing up.

This practical, reassuring guide will teach you how to meet your children’s needs of love, trust, affection―and discipline. (This new edition is part of Dr. James Dobson’s Building A Family Legacy initiative.)


Hey!  Thanks for dropping by …   

I’d love to hear your thoughts – really! 

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