The phrase “Time out” has been overused and misused by parents and educators lately. Teachers, mothers and caregivers should refrain from using this strategy up until a certified therapist adequately coaches them. And it is very important that they combine “time out” with positive procedures that may teach new skills and prevent misbehavior.

Unfortunately such training on scientific basis is very rare in our country and even parenting experts have gotten their experience from the internet which is rarely a credible scientific certification. It is heartbreaking to witness a mother scolding her child and aggressively forcing him/her into a closed room for an extended period of time, just because she saw an episode of “the naughty corner” on TV!

Picture yourself as that little human, who adores, is attached and completely fascinated by his mother more than anything in his little world. Then this very important person in your life suddenly switches into a “monster” like one of the children actually described his mom! In addition, you have no clue why this transformation happens to this very dear person and the only explanation you can imagine is that maybe you are not lovable enough or maybe you are “bad” or “naughty” as your teacher tells you everyday! That’s why specifically after any kind of parental aggression towards the child, the child may ask his parent “Do you love me?”

“Time out” procedure is backed up by a lot of scientific research and studies that showed correction of the challenging behavior on condition that it was applied professionally.( Callahan, Stevens and Eyeberg)


So, What is Time out?


The term “time out” is not a preferable term for me personally because I think it may imply a harsh exclusion perspective. But it is a short term for “time out from positive reinforcement”, which actually means to withdraw whatever is reinforcing the child to misbehave. This reinforcement may be the mother’s attention, it might be a scream or shout and it may even be the mother’s aggressiveness.

For example, if a group of children are playing together with blocks and one child starts throwing the blocks at the other children, then the caregiver shouts out his name, this is considered positive reinforcement of a negative behavior and the child thinks “Oh, so every time I throw blocks, this lady is going to say my name with this funny stare on her face!! I am going to try it again and see what she’s going to do!” 

So, the first step of time out here is to give positive attention to the other children who are playing nicely then very calmly address the misbehaving child, warning him that this might lead to the consequence of not playing with the blocks for a while.

Effective behavior management should always start positively with praise and encouragement of self-regulation of pro social behavior. It is also very important to use distraction techniques, redirection, withdrawal of attention, as well as logical (natural) consequences.

I prefer calling this procedure “Quiet time” as it is intended to give a “cooling off” period for the child to calm down and start analyzing his behavior. It will also act as a stopper for the conflict and consequently protect the victim.

Although according to scientifically based empirical studies, time out has shown efficiency in improving challenging behaviors, it should NOT be overused or misused but should be reserved for very highly aggressive behaviors or destructive behaviors and still the caregiver should be very calm in dealing even with the most violent child. It is called being “Firm but kind”.

This methodology usually needs training under observation of a professional, which is called PCIT Parent-Child Interaction Therapy where the therapist coaches the parent on how to deal with the child. This procedure is empirically supported by a lot of studies and research has shown positive results in child behavior as well as parent child relationships (Charles E. Shaefer, 2010)


When to address challenging behavior with “Quiet Time”


Firstly, Some children may not need this procedure throughout their childhood and parents who deal positively and humanely with their children since birth may not need it at all. But other children with challenging behaviors may benefit from this procedure on condition that it is applied appropriately with not even a hint of repulsion, shame or aggression. Secondly, before resorting to “Quiet time”, the parent should have tried modeling, redirection, motivation and all preventive proactive practices.




When it is agreed after all other proactive practices, that time out should be used, following are the steps :( Kindly don’t apply till after consulting a professional).


1.      Use this procedure only for very aggressive acts or destructive actions. It is not intended for minor acts, which should be faced with redirection, or prompting.

2.      Teachers or parents should agree on when they will give the child “Quiet time” and at which threshold. If the child is treated differently for the same behavior, he will not improve.

3.      Keep your face nurturing and kind at all times towards your child and avoid the stare, the disgust and the blaming expressions. Also avoid raising your voice.

4.      Provide a clear brief explanation to the child when the challenging behavior occurs “You will sit here and think how you can play nicely with your friends”.

5.      This procedure should be monitored carefully, and the person giving it should be the person to talk with the child and follow up through it. Children usually take 3-4 minutes to calm down and will with repetition learn that attention comes with calming down, which will enhance their self-regulation and self-calming skills.

6.      “Quiet Time” will give the child a chance to try again and will provide the needed training for conflict resolution and problem solving.

7.      Proactive alternatives should always be provided first and Quiet Time will only be effective if applied infrequently for only the extremely aggressive behavior.

8.      This procedure is NOT intended to scare, shame or intimidate the child in any way.

9.      Never label the child as naughty, bad or any negative label.

10.  The whole procedure should be with the attitude of coaching the child and not punishing or harming the child in any way.


Signals of faulty “Time Out”


If you encounter any of the following, you are NOT applying the procedure correctly:

1.      You are threatening repeatedly that you will give the child a Time Out.

2.      The child is doing the behavior over and over again.

3.      It is the only approach you use to manage the child’s misbehaviors and you use it repeatedly all day for all negative behaviors.

4.      You show signs of physical or emotional aggression during this period.

5.      You accompany the procedure with scolding, shaming or blaming.



To sum up, my advice for parents and caregivers is to learn how to deal with the child’s challenging behaviors from a trusted certified professional and not from an entertainment show or an online source without references. It is also very important to remember that there is absolutely no reason for you to shout at your child or treat him/her aggressively in any way or for any reason.


You can be kindly firm but NEVER show your child that blaming or shaming face.


Research Based References

Brestan, E. V., & Eyberg, S. M. (1998). Effective psychosocial treatments of conduct disordered children and adolescents: 29 years, 82 studies, and 5272 kids. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 27(2), 180-189.

Mace, F. C., Page, T. J., Ivancic, M. T., & O’Brien, S. (1986). Effectiveness of brief time-out with and without contingent delay: A comparative analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19(1), 79-86.

Porterfield, J. K., Herbert-Jackson, E., & Risley, T. R. (1976). Contingent observation: An effective and acceptable procedure for reducing disruptive behavior of young children in a group setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9(1), 55-64.

Sherbourne, S., Utley, B., McConnell, S., & Gannon, J. (1988). Decreasing violent or aggressive theme play among preschool children with behavior disorders. Exceptional Children, 55(2), 166-172.

Turner, S. T., & Watson, T. S. (1999). Consultant’s guide for the use of time-out in the preschool and elemen- tary classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 36(2), 135-148.

Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Hammond, M. (2001). Preventing conduct problems, promoting social competence: A parent and teacher training partnership in Head Start. Journal of Clinical Child Psychol- ogy, 30(3), 283-302.



Research Based

By Dr. Mona Youssri

Child psychiatrist, Family Counselor and CLC Founder