Time out is short for "time out from reinforcement". Therefore, the child who is acting out has time away from stimuli in their surrounding that reinforce the behaviors or make them stronger. The reinforcer is often attention.
Time out is an effective and safe method to use when disciplining children. Time out involves placing a child in a chair in the corner of a room, (e.g., living room, kitchen, dinning room, hallway) for a period of time.
The placement of the chair should be such that the parent can easily monitor the child during the time out period. The chair should be stable and not able to turn or rock. A child should not be placed in a closet, bathroom or his/her bedroom. There are distractions and reinforcers in each.
The amount of time the child is to remain in time out should be a minimum of one minute per year of the child’s age, up to a maximum of two minutes per year of the child’s age. A five-year-old placed in time out would therefore spend a minimum of five minutes to a maximum of ten minutes in time out. The one minute per year of the child’s age would be used for less serious offenses while the two minute per year of the child’s age would be used for more serious offenses.
During the time out period, the child is not allowed to talk, to be talked to play, watch TV or participate in any family activity that may be going on at the time.
Once time out is over, the child must agree to obey the command given to them prior to the time out. If the disobedience cannot be corrected such as in the case of the child hitting another person, the child must agree to not hit anyone again before leaving time out. Failure on the child’s part to agree with the parent’s command will result in an extended time out period. It is best if the parent uses this intervention without affect. Sometimes a parent's being upset is a reward to a child and therefore reinforces the problem behavior.
Pam Capp, LMHC