Skip to main content

Health library

Time-out for discipline

Your 4-year-old's favorite new activity is pulling the cat's tail.

You've asked her to stop twice, but when you turn around, she's doing it again. What do you do?

When children do what you want them to, praise and attention are the most effective ways to reinforce their good behavior.

But what you do when they misbehave also sends a message, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Consistent, calm discipline helps children regulate their behavior to meet your expectations.


When your child continues to do something you've asked him or her to stop, such as pulling the cat's tail, try using a time-out. Time-outs work best with children from 2 to 5 years old, but they can be used throughout childhood, according to the AAP.

Tell your child ahead of time what behaviors will result in time-outs. When the child does one of these things, you may provide a single warning. Then send him or her to time-out immediately.

Choose a spot for time-outs that is boring, with no distractions, but also safe. A chair in the corner is a good example. Tell the child what he or she did wrong in as few words as possible, the AAP says.

Have a timer near the time-out area so that the child will know when it's going to end. Start the timer when the child starts sitting quietly. Reset the timer if the child starts fussing or protesting. If the child won't stay put, hold him or her in your lap or by the shoulders. Say "I am holding you here because you need to have a time-out," and don't discuss it further.

The AAP recommends one minute of time-out for each year of a child's age.

If the behavior needs to be talked about more, wait until a few minutes after the time-out is over.


Although many Americans were spanked as children, the AAP strongly recommends against striking a child for any reason. 

Spanking may get immediate results by reducing or stopping a child's behavior, but the more it's used, the less effective it becomes.

Spanking is less effective than time-outs or removal of privileges in changing children's behavior, says the AAP. The AAP adds that spanking also provides children with a poor example of how to manage their own emotions. In addition:

  • Spanking teaches children that it's OK to hit and yell when they're angry.
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching self-control.

Time-out for parents

We all lose our temper from time to time, especially when we are tired or stressed.

If you start to get angry, take a few deep breaths and count to 10. If possible, have someone else watch your child while you leave the room or take a break.

Discipline can be hard work, but it pays off when your child begins to develop self-control.

Reviewed 6/20/2023

Related stories