David Bynes



From TucsonParent Magazine 10/15/2000



-By David Bynes LCSW

Time-out has become perhaps the most widely used behavior modification technique by parents and teachers.  There are a wide variety of ways in which this technique can be used.  This article will attempt to broaden parents’ perceptions of time-out — to give them more choices in choosing parenting techniques.

Time-out is often thought of as a form of mild punishment.  Its purpose being to remove the child from activity, to an environment with very little stimulation — in the hope that an understanding of the inappropriate behavior will take place. Usually the parent or teacher chooses a designated spot for the child to sit such as a time-out chair.  The rule of thumb is for the child to sit in time-out for a minute for each year of her age.  Thus an eight-year-old child would be expected to sit in time-out for 8 minutes.  The technique has been most successful in being applied as a consistent consequence for specific behaviors that the parent would like to see change, like hitting or fighting for example.  Traditionally, time-out has been most successful for younger children from about ages 2-12.  Traditional time-out is an authoritarian, parent initiated approach.

Classic time-out certainly has its place in parenting.  For many parents it provides them with the most effective alternative to corporal punishment.  It is easy to use, and a wide variety of information is available in parenting literature to give simple practical advice regarding this technique.

What most articles do leave out however, is the child initiated time-out.  Allowing your child to give a time-out to herself when she feels that she needs alone time empowers her to exercise greater control over her behavior.  Child initiated time-outs are an excellent way to teach your child anger management strategies.  Children need to be taught to regulate their emotional outbursts in a way that allows them to express their feelings more safely and accurately.  This is particularly true in dynamic, explosive situations– such as a fight between siblings, an argument with parents or in the midst of a temper tantrum.

Explain to your child that it is her prerogative to be able to have her own space to be alone when she needs to.  Your child will be more motivated to use the child initiated time-out if you allow her to use a less punitive environment –such as a bedroom, study or bathroom.  The doorknob “do not disturb” signs found in hotels, are a great way to establish a system in your house to respect your child’s privacy when she feels the need to be alone.

Parents can and should model alone time for their children.  There are times when the stress of being a parent can be overwhelming.  As parents we can tell our children that we need 5 minutes to be alone.  Time-out can be a very effective anger management tool for adults also.  We cannot parent effectively when we are angry or upset.  Rather than yelling or making irrational threats, parents should practice taking alone time and then return to talk with their child when they are calmer.

Make sure you do not teach your child that time-out is a way to avoid dealing with conflict and issues altogether.  Be sure to follow-up with your child after time-out with the parental listening and guidance that children need.  When time-out begins, explain to your child that it is your expectation that the issues at hand will be discussed after time-out.

-David Bynesis owner of “Academic and BehavioralCenter”323-9835 www.abctucson.com,   a private mental health service specializing in helping children and families with educational issues.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Arizona State University, and is a state certified teacher.