Discussing different behavioral strategies is an important part of my patient visits, and I frequently recommend the use of time-out for children over the age of 2 years. However, conflicting information on the internet could easily lead any parent to question its use.
A loving and responsive connection between parents and children is a critical foundational piece of healthy child development. We, as adults, need to be mindful of what children are or are not developmentally capable of doing and maintain reasonable expectations for their behavior.
That being said, time-out strategies have a time and place when implemented in the correct or appropriate manner. I often hear from parents that time-outs simply don't work for their children. However, time-outs as a behavioral strategy can be very effective in reducing attention-seeking behaviors that are inappropriate, dangerous and injurious.
Young children, especially those with ADHD, are highly motivated by generating adult attention, whether positive ("Great job waiting your turn!") or negative ("Why did you take that from your sister? What did I tell you about that?"). We want to teach all children that appropriate behavior is more effective than inappropriate behavior to gain adult attention.
I recently talked to Patty Huang, MD, a developmental pediatrician at Children's, to talk about best practices.
Here are tips she shared on how to use time-outs:
Many parents tell me that their kids "don't get it," don't seem sorry when in time-out, and therefore believe the strategy doesn't work. However, time-out is not designed to make your child think and apologize for certain behaviors.
By taking your child out of current activities and formally removing attention, the time-out is intended to send a message that an inappropriate, attention-seeking behavior will not receive attention.
For time-outs to be effective, children do need to have enough language skill and some understanding of action and consequence, which is why we do not recommend time-outs for children under 2 years of age.