Black and white photo of the back of a 2-year-old girl's slightly bowed head. Timeout is an effective method of discipline at this age, if done correctly.

How to Execute an Effective Timeout

As a parent of a toddler, you may find yourself dealing with misbehavior or problem behavior on a regular basis. And while it can be stressful, there's no reason to fret as this is a natural part of raising children. While discipline strategies vary from family to family, timeouts have proven to be an effective method of child discipline. However, executing a timeout properly is key to its success.

Understand the Real Purpose of a Timeout

The purpose of a timeout is to give your child a break from the situation and a chance to calm down. It's not meant to scare them out of misbehavior nor is it a way to unleash your anger on them. It's simply a strategy to calm down that has the natural consequence of being removed from a preferred activity or setting. It's important to choose a location that is safe, quiet and away from any distractions. The duration of the timeout varies depending on the age of the child, but generally, a one-minute timeout per year of age is recommended.

What are the Steps to an Effective Timeout?

Need the quick cheat sheet to an effective timeout? Checkout the steps below!

  1. Be very clear about the behaviors that will lead to a timeout - To execute an effective timeout, start by calmly explaining to your toddler what behavior is unacceptable and what the consequences will be if the behavior continues. It's important to remain calm and firm during this conversation, as raising your voice or becoming angry can exacerbate the situation.
  2.  Be consistent - Once the explicitly discussed problem behavior has occurred announce to your child that they have engaged in that behavior and now will be going to timeout to calm down. Being consistent is absolutely vital. Each time the behavior occurs, the timeout must happen and must be executed in the same way. This lets your child know that there is no wiggle room with this behavior expectation and consequence.
  3.  Initiate the timeout - Lead them to the designated timeout area and set a timer. As stated above, a minute per year is recommended, (so if your child is 2, two minutes will suffice). Once the timer is set, walk away from them. If they get up out of their seat, lead them back to it calmly but firmly and restart their timer. There's no need to talk them through this or nag them about why you're restarting the timer. They will begin to understand after several times. Too much talking can contribute to the chaos.
  4. Do not negotiate or give into manipulation - Once the timeout is initiated, it's important to remain consistent and not give in to any pleading or begging from your child. Do not engage with your child or give them any attention, as the purpose of the timeout is for them to reflect on their behavior and calm down. If you must say something, simply state, "I will talk to you after your timeout is over."
  5. End the timeout - Once the timeout has been successfully completed go to your child and let them know the timeout is over. Go back over the problem behavior briefly. Saying something like, "We're not going to hit anymore, ok?" is sufficient. If they agree, hug it out and maybe provide a few words of sympathy. You can say, "Timeout is hard, I know. Mommy didn't like them when she was a little girl either. But it's important for you to understand that we cannot hit." You can also incorporate this phrase into your arsenal: "I love you too much to allow you to do that."

Getting into the Details of an Effective Timeout

Setting Clear Rules and Boundaries

Before implementing a timeout, it is essential to explain its purpose to the child in an age-appropriate manner. This can help prevent confusion and ensure the child understands why they are being placed in a timeout. Clear expectations should be set and reinforced so that the child knows what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

When a toddler displays problem behavior or misbehaves, it is important to remain calm and neutral. Placing the child in a timeout for a short period of time, using a specific location and communicating the length of the timeout, can help the child understand why they are being disciplined and give them an opportunity to reflect on their behavior.

Timeouts should be used sparingly and only for behaviors that are unacceptable. Effective discipline strategies involve positive discipline as well, in which the child is rewarded for good behavior. Consistency, communication and patience are important when using timeouts or any other discipline method with toddlers. By consistently enforcing clear rules and boundaries, toddlers can learn appropriate behavior and develop self-discipline that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Explaining the Purpose

When describing problem behavior to your toddler, ensure that they understand what they did wrong. As a result, they'll know why they are getting a timeout. Providing specific information about what they did wrong along with examples can make a huge difference. A warning involves notifying your toddler that they'll get a timeout if the behavior continues. Giving your child a warning allows them to self-correct their actions before getting a timeout.

It's important to explain to your child why they are being sent to timeout. Use simple language and be clear with your expectations. For example, "You are being sent to timeout because hitting is not okay. I want you to sit here and think about how your actions affect others."

Setting a Spot and a Time Limit

When choosing a timeout spot for your toddler, keep in mind that it should be a quiet and safe place away from distractions. You can choose a specific chair, corner of the room, or a designated area in your home. Make sure it's a spot where your child won't be tempted to play with toys or watch TV.

Toddlers have a short attention span, so it's important to keep the timeout brief. One minute per year of age is a good guideline to follow. For example, a two-year-old should be in timeout for no more than two minutes. Make sure you set a timer to keep track of the time.

Follow Through & Consistency

Once your child is in timeout, it's important to follow through and stay consistent. In fact, consistency is the most important part of this whole process. Initiate a timeout whenever the specified problem behavior occurs. If you let it slide every once in a while, you send that message that the behavior is sometimes ok. Don't engage in conversation or show any attention to your child during their timeout. Don't give into any manipulation tactics like whining, crying or pleading, either. If your child tries to get out of their timeout by using any of these methods, understand that it is perfectly normal. They are testing boundaries. Simply stand firm so they understand that those tactics don't work. When the timeout is over, acknowledge your child's behavior and explain why it was not acceptable. If it happens again, rinse and repeat. And don't despair! This is a normal part of a toddler's development. As long as you stay calm, firm, and consistent they will learn eventually.


Timeouts are an essential tool in child discipline for a toddler. Toddlers, as they explore their world, are bound to engage in misbehavior that calls for discipline. Timeouts are effective means of establishing boundaries and enforcing discipline. It can be a period of time when a toddler is made to sit in a designated area, or whatever safe and comfortable area is available, to reflect on their misbehavior and calm down.

Timeouts are a powerful tool that can be used to establish effective rules and boundaries for your little one at this age. Parents should use timeouts carefully and selectively, only using them for particular behavior problems. The timeout should be brief, the spot comfortable and the toddler clear on why they are in a timeout. Timeout, combined with parental praise and reinforcement, are effective discipline strategies that can help shape a toddler's behavior in the right direction.

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