Picture this: your toddler asks if she could have a chocolate chip cookie before dinner time, and you politely explain that she will have to wait until after she eats her dinner. She kicks and screams and before you know it – finds her way to the cookie jar, regardless of your previous conversation and without your permission.

So, what happens next?

A time-out can provide the time for your child to calm down and think about their bad behavior.

Dr. Kelly Watson, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, says that the best time to initiate a time-out is right after the bad behavior happens. This is a good time since the bad behavior is still fresh on their mind, so your child will have time to reflect on their actions.

It’s very important to make sure that children are disciplined in a calm, controlled manner. However, it’s not uncommon for parents to experience frustration or anger with a child after the bad behavior happens.

For parents, the best thing to do is stay calm and briefly explain to your child what they have done to deserve time-out.

Dr. Watson encourages parents to keep this explanation simple, “Just say to them ‘you’re in time out for X’, then walk away. This gives the parents a few minutes to calm down and regroup as well.”

Having a designated “time-out spot” that is in a quiet, safe space and away from stimulating activity can be beneficial for both parents and children.

While in the time-out spot, experts suggest that for each year in age, one minute should be reflected in their time-out time. For example, if your child is 3, then 3 minutes of time-out is recommended.

However, this is situational and depends ultimately on your child and their personal needs.

“One of the things I always try to tell parents is that time-outs should be done in the picture of positive reinforcement, other people like to call it time-in” says Dr. Watson.

Positive reinforcement, or time-in, involves highlighting the positive behaviors of your child, and giving them attention from the behaviors that you want to encourage. This will encourage your child to engage in more positive behavior in order to get more positive attention from their parents.

Parents should make sure that they are balancing the amount of discipline and positive reinforcement their child receives.

It’s never too late for parents to implement a time-out program in their home. For parents who are starting a time-out journey with their children, it is necessary to sit down and have a calm conversation with your child to introduce them to the new discipline plan. Here is a great blueprint for having this conversation:

  • Make a physical list of the house rules such as “no hitting” and “no biting” and display them somewhere in your house.
  • Explain the rules and refer back to the physical list of house rules, so your child can understand what is acceptable and what is not.
  • Explain the consequences of what will happen if they break a rule.

When the child engages in negative behavior, or breaks a house rule, it’s best for parents to calmly do the following:

  • Remove your child from the situation and into their quiet time-out spot.
  • Explain what is happening in time-out. For example, “You are going to be in time-out because you hit mommy, and that is against the rules.”
  • Set a timer whether it’s a kitchen timer, phone timer, or watch timer, so you can keep track of how long the time-out will last. When the time is up, give your child permission to end time-out.
  • Do a regroup and give positive reinforcement to remind the child of the bad behavior and that you still love them. For example, “We are not going to hit anymore, and mommy still loves you.”

Dr. Watson explains that it’s not abnormal to notice an increase in bad behavior after instituting a new behavior plan. However, this does not mean that your efforts are not working, and it does not mean your behavior plan won’t be successful.

“It means the child is pushing you to see what they can still get away with, and how far they can push you and see if they can get you to back down again” says Dr. Watson.

It’s important to stay consistent in your plan, and to not give in to the pressure and bad behavior of your child. Depending on the child, it can take days to weeks to notice an increase in good behavior, but they will eventually settle down and learn that you are being consistent with the plan.

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the largest team of general pediatricians, adolescent medicine physicians and pediatric specialists, in the Augusta area. Make an appointment at or call 706-721-KIDS (5437).

About the author

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children’s Hospital of Georgia is the only facility in the area dedicated exclusively to children. It staffs the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region who deliver out- and in- patient care for everything from common childhood illnesses to life-threatening conditions like heart disorders, cancer and neurological diseases.