General General
Time-outs are not working as well as before. What should I do?
Asked By : Irene Ng
Words from the Expert:



Time-outs are not working as well as before on my kids, are there any options I can consider when disciplining my children?


There is nothing wrong with ‘Time-Out’ per se. It is time-proven and relatively child-friendly, and is a widely accepted disciplinary strategy.

Time-out works in a number of ways, mostly because removing children from the situation in question immediately stops the undesirable behaviour. They are then given an opportunity to reflect on their behaviour.

If it is no longer working, it is probably because the child does not understand why he or she is sitting on the naughty-chair/ in the corner/ in the bedroom in the first place – therefore, the self-reflection aspect is missing. Also, if it has been used too often, like any strategy, it is subject to the law of diminishing returns. From the child’s perspective, mums are emotional and unpredictable, and occasionally, this leads to me sitting here until she gets over it and things go back to normal – no blood, no foul.

For time-out to work effectively as a behaviour-modification tool, the child must be aware that the ‘punishment’ is related to ‘the crime’ – and while this might seem obvious to the parent, it is by no means obvious to the child. A child’s brain is a work in progress and as such, it may not yet have a strong grasp on the concept of cause and effect. I do ‘X’ and therefore I am punished with ‘Y’.

The solution to this is to precede and follow up the time-out with what we like to call ‘Time-In’.

Time-in refers to a disciplinary method where the parent gets the child to sit next to her or be in close contact so that communication can be effective.

Kneeling down so that you are facing your child at eye level is sure to capture their attention. Asking whether your child can hear you – “Can you hear Mummy talking to you?” and then asking the child to think about why he/she might be in the wrong and explaining very clearly the connection between the offence and the time-out, ties the two together.

For example:

‘What did we say about pulling the cat’s tail?’

‘Not to…’

‘Did you do it?’


‘That was wrong, wasn’t it?’


‘Then I think you should sit on the naughty chair for a while, don’t you?’

Tying the cause and the effect together immediately before imposing the Time-Out is a crucial part of the process. Making sure the child has understood it is just as important.

It is generally recommended that the length of time a child stays in time-out be one minute per year of age. Parents can even use a kitchen timer to ensure the time is accurate and avoid situations where they become distracted and forget their child is in there!

Children can watch the timer, knowing they are there for a limited time. Young children have shorter memories, and if they are in time-out for too long they will forget why there were put there in the first place.

 Once children have been in time-out for the set length of time, another short time-in allows the parent to reinforce the reason why they had to go to time-out. For a child – and even for an adult – learning only takes place when elements are connected. So, make sure the connection is understood.

Giving children a hug at this point reassures them that your love for them is still there, even though they have made a mistake.


Brian Caswell, Dean of Research & Programme Development, MindChamps PreSchool Singapore

Co-Author of Preschool Parenting Secrets: Talking With The Sky.