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At What Age Should You Start Putting a Child in Time Out?

by Crystal Bonser, studioD

Timeouts are a common form of discipline for young children. Most parents have a designated spot for timeouts, such as a chair in the corner of the room or an area of a hallway. For timeouts to be effective, your child must know what the rules are and which actions will lead to a timeout. It is also advisable to give your child a warning before disciplining her. Although there is not a unanimous agreement among experts as to the best age to begin timeouts, there is an agreed upon age range. Experts also agree that the methods of timeouts should be adjusted according to a child's age.

Benefits of Timeouts by Age

According the American Academy of Pediatrics, timeouts are most effective for children between the ages of 2 and 5. In addition, some parenting experts, such as Dr. Sears and Diane Levy, feel that children as young as 18 months can benefit from timeouts. Younger children are not intellectually mature enough to understand why they are being placed in a timeout, while children 6 years and older generally benefit more from techniques that rely on their advanced logic and reasoning.

Length of Timeouts by Age

Generally speaking, timeouts should last one minute for every year of your child's age. So a 2-year-old would be put in timeout for two minutes and a 5-year-old would be put in timeout for five minutes. Remember, the younger a child is, the longer a timeout will feel. Placing a timer next to your child will help him understand the length of his timeout. Younger children will wait for the sound of the timer's "ding," while older children can watch as the timer counts down the remaining time of their punishment.

Timeouts for Children Under the Age of 2

If your child is between the ages of 18 months and 2 years, chances are she will not remain seated for the duration of her timeout. If this is the case, you may need to hold her on your lap until her timeout is over. At this age, timeouts are more about removing your child from the area where she was misbehaving, distracting her from her negative behavior, and giving her a minute or two to calm down. Although a child this young is not likely to understand her punishment, it's still important to have a brief chat with her following her timeout. Remind her why she was placed in timeout and let her know that you still love her.

Timeouts for Children Ages 2 to 5

A child between the ages of 2 and 4 is old enough to sit on his own for the duration of his timeout, but he should be seated in an area that you can keep an eye on him. Otherwise, he is likely to get into mischief. Most 5-year-old children are old enough to be left unattended during their timeouts, but some may still need supervision, especially those with high energy levels. All children between the ages of 2 and 5 are old enough for a post-timeout discussion, although the older the child is the more in-depth this discussion can be. Remind your child why he was placed in a timeout, discuss his feelings with him and assure him that he is still loved.

About the Author

Crystal Bonser has been working as a freelance writer and editor for an educational website since 2009. She is also the creator of a pet-loss website on which she facilitates weekly grief support groups. Bonser holds a Bachelor of Social Work and a minor in psychology from Ryerson University.

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