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Are You Giving Your Toddler Timeouts?

Giving a toddler timeout is a classic method of disciplining that is a lot different from spanking and hitting. Unlike the latter, which do imply a negative form of discipline, timeouts simply involve removing the child from the place or situation that triggers them to throw a tantrum.

It does seem like an effective way to discipline your child. All you have to do is take away your child for a few minutes and they will come out a lot calmer and possibly more obedient. That’s the ideal anyway. But are timeouts really this effective?

Some parents say that timeouts do very little to discipline their children. According to some experts, children respond differently to this form of discipline. While some children are able to absorb and understand the lesson their parents are trying to teach them through a timeout, some children respond negatively, get overwhelmed and would possibly have a meltdown.

However, it’s not just about children and their responses. A study conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University showed that it is the strategy of the parents that make a difference. Some mistakes that lead to a timeout failure include giving too many warnings, talking to the child during the timeout, or letting them play with toys while being disciplined. 

If you are interested in learning more about timeouts and understanding the tactics that make it a successful method for toddler discipline, read on!

6 Ways to Make Giving Timeouts More Effective

1. Reserve timeouts for particular offenses.

Giving timeouts too often and for a myriad of reasons is one of the sure ways to make this form of discipline backfire. As with any form of toddler discipline, a timeout quickly loses its value if you give it haphazardly because the child fails to understand the specific offenses that warrant it.

Instead, reserve timeouts for particular offenses, which may include hitting other people or being intentionally defiant. You might also give timeout to an older child who does the opposite of what you told them on purpose. A timeout is also a good form of discipline to give to a child whose offense could cause injury to themselves or to other people.

At the same time, be gracious and do not discipline your child for simple unavoidable incidents like dropping their glass of milk or accidentally breaking their toy.

2. Give the child one clear warning before giving them a timeout.

Another surefire way to keep giving timeouts from being successful is giving too many warnings before actually carrying out the discipline. It adds to the stressfulness of the situation and by the time you actually give a timeout, your child is already too overwhelmed.

Instead, give your child one firm warning after the first offense (one of the offenses mentioned above). For some children, counting up to 5 is enough to stop them from acting out. However, if they keep doing the offensive behavior intentionally after the count of 5, proceed with the discipline. Tell them again what they did wrong and take them to the timeout spot.

3. Create a consistent timeout spot.

Avoid escorting your child for their timeout inside their room where there are plenty of toys and books. Also avoid giving them a timeout in the living room, where the television is, or in the kitchen where there are a lot of dangerous objects. 

Instead, identify a specific spot in your house that is free from distractions and also free from potentially dangerous objects. You should also be able to see this spot without necessarily having to stay there. Adding a clock that alarms when the timeout is over is a nice but not necessary touch. 

4. Do not give them attention during the timeout.

Some children act out to get their parents’ attention, so you should do the exact opposite, which is to ignore them. Giving your toddler a timeout essentially works because you are not giving them the negative attention they are looking for. Giving them any sort of attention might only encourage them to keep doing the offensive behavior.

Clearly, a timeout will not work if you keep talking to your child or giving them attention. The idea is to make the child realize that the behavior leads to losing your attention instead of getting it. So refrain from talking to your child during the timeout or even giving them a glass of water.  Do not even make eye contact. Completely ignoring the child for a few minutes will help them understand the consequences of bad behavior better.

5. Talk to your child after timeout is over.

Ignoring your child is only reserved for the actual minutes of timeout. Right after the timeout is over, spend time talking to your child. Reiterate what they did that warranted disciplinary action and ask them if they understood why they were given a timeout.

At the same time, encourage your child to speak out and express their own thoughts. Do not dismiss their feelings, but be firm in saying that if they repeat the bad behavior, then they will be sent to a timeout again. 

Don’t forget to praise them for being a good and obedient child for completing their timeout. In fact, make it a habit to always praise them whenever they behave well!

6. Be consistent.

Many experts agree that consistency is key in disciplining a child effectively. Little children thrive on routine, and if they understand that there are specific consequences for specific behaviors, then they will realize the right way to behave. On the other hand, inconsistency on your part would only confuse the child. 

With regard to timeouts, or any form of discipline really, it is important to set specific rules. You can create a list of offenses that warrant a timeout and stick to it. Avoid giving your child multiple chances to do the bad behavior without discipline. Never make empty threats; once you say it’s time for a timeout, make sure to follow through every time without wavering. 

By being consistent, your child will understand that these are serious offenses and that their consequences are certain and unavoidable. They will begin taking discipline seriously, which discourages them from repeating the behavior again. 


Disciplining a young child is never fun, and it is safe to assume that no normal parent ever looks forward to ignoring their child for even just a few minutes. Disciplining a child by giving them a timeout will not harm them and is effective in making them understand the consequences of bad behavior — as long as you follow the right tips and strategies.

Featured image by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash
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