More than three-quarters of parents reported using time-outs to manage their child’s
misbehavior, but the vast majority made at least one implementation error, according
to a survey of 401 parents of children ages 15 months to 10 years.
Time-out is based on removing positive reinforcement such as social attention and
access to physical objects. Evidence shows it is effective in reducing behaviors such
as aggression and noncompliance. It also is the most widely used disciplinary method
among parents and is commonly recommended by primary care providers.
The authors of this study, however, noted that many parents report the procedure does
not work. Therefore, they set out to determine how parents use time-outs.
Parents who visited a primary care clinic were recruited to complete a survey that
asked about their discipline practices, how difficult it was to manage their child’s
behavior, perception of time-out and how they implemented the procedure.
About 77% had used time-out, and 70% said it usually or always was effective. However,
85% reported using at least one technique that was counter to evidence-based practices,
and 64% made multiple implementation errors. The most common mistakes were giving
the child multiple warnings before putting him or her in time-out, talking to the
child during time-out, and allowing the child access to toys, books, electronics or
Parents who said time-out was effective were more likely to use the method correctly.
The authors said clinicians should advise parents to give one warning then a short
reason for the time-out (e.g. “no hitting”). Parents should not talk to their child
during the time-out, and they should reduce the child’s access to stimulation. If
a child tries to escape, the parent should return him or her to the time-out area
with minimal interaction.
“Ultimately, counseling on TO (time-out) may be misguided or ineffective for many
families until more positive parenting practices are established,” the authors concluded.