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5 Steps to Doing Timeouts the Right Way

A well-executed timeout can quickly and simply put the chill on your toddler’s meltdown. But there’s a trick to getting the most out of an effective timeout, and it starts with shedding an outdated notion. Timeouts work best when delivered not as a punishment, but as a chance for your toddler to calm down and practice self-control. 

So rather than banishing your little one to the “naughty chair,” take shame out of the equation, and provide an opportunity to regroup and reset. If it helps, you can think of it as “quiet time” rather than a timeout. Regardless of what you call it, here are five steps to pulling off a timeout that will leave you both feeling better.

  1. Set the rules in advance. Timeouts work best when used sparingly and reserved for the big stuff, like hitting, screaming, or continuing to disobey. A child that is whining or crying probably needs a different approach (think snack or nap). If a timeout is warranted, be brief and firm: “Hitting is not allowed. Let’s take a break and calm down.”
  2. Choose a spot. A chair in a quiet corner is the classic timeout solution, but feel free to use what works best for your child. Laying down on a mat or bed can be just as suitable. Make sure the timeout spot is a little boring, so your child can focus on calming down.
  3. Set a timer. One rule of thumb that works for lots of parents is one minute for each year of age: two minutes for a 2-year-old, four minutes for a 4-year-old. And since young children need help understanding time, an egg timer or countdown clock will make the duration clear.
  4. Avoid giving more attention. Once your child is in timeout, don’t lecture endlessly about the behavior that landed him there. Without meaning to, you’ll end up either shaming him or feeding an attention-seeking habit. Give your child space to be alone with his thoughts.
  5. End with time in. When the timeout is over, welcome him back to the action with a hug. A positive and loving return sets your child up for associating good feelings with good behavior.

Austin Family Magazine serves the greater Austin area with up-to-date information and ideas that promote smart parenting and healthy homes. Pick up the latest issue at any local HEB, Central Market, Whole Foods or visit austinfamily.com.

Sherida Mock is the editor of Austin Family Magazine.

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