Time out - help your child behave better

Time-out can help your child learn a better way to behave when they are feeling frustrated or angry. It takes a child who is misbehaving out of a stressful situation for a short time.

Time-out gives your child a chance to calm down before they rejoin others.

It's important that your child knows that it's their behaviour that is being corrected, and not them as a person.

Who time-out is for

For time-out to work, your child must be able to know:

  • what they did wrong in the first place
  • what they should have done instead
  • they will get a chance to behave as expected

When to use time-out

Your child needs to understand what behaviours will lead to time-out.

Some examples are:

  • hitting
  • biting
  • throwing things

Make a list of behaviours that will lead to time-out. It's important that parents or carers are consistent when using time-out.

Do not use time-out for other minor misbehaviours in the heat of the moment.

When time-out is not useful

Time-out is not useful if your child is under 3 years old or has special needs.

Steps for a successful time out

A quiet place

Identify a quiet and safe place for your child to sit where there are no distractions. Good places are a chair or beanbag by the wall or on the bottom step of the stairs. Here, you can see your child and be near them and they are near you.

Tell them what happened

If your child behaves badly, such as hurting someone, fighting or having a tantrum, tell them what has happened. "You have hurt your sister. This behaviour is not allowed. I am putting you in time-out. When you have calmed down and stayed calm for X minutes, then I will take you out of time-out."

If they leave

If they leave the time-out area before time is up, place them back, provided they will be safe.

After time-out

After the time-out minutes have passed, allow your calmer child to rejoin the group again. Your child should stay calm for approximately 1 minute and up to 5 minutes for an older child.

At the end of time-out, do not start nagging your child about their previous misbehaviour. Return to positive attention. Give them an opportunity to rejoin an activity or to start a new activity.

Praise your child when they are behaving properly. They will then know this is the right behaviour.


Managing difficult behaviours in your child

Non-urgent advice: If you feel you need more support or advice about your child’s behaviour, contact your:

  • local family resource centre
  • community child psychologist
  • public health nurse
  • GP practice nurse
  • GP

Parentline can also provide support. LoCall 1890 927 277 (Parentline).

Page last reviewed: 29 June 2022
Next review due: 29 June 2025