Welcome back to the fourth and final installment of this series discussing parenting and children's behavior.

The first installment discussed why it is helpful to make this change and provided ways to provide more of that positive attention.

The second installment discussed how to combine active ignoring with positive attention to replace unwanted behaviors with more desirable behaviors.

The third installment discussed ways to talk to children when we want them to do something that will improve the probability that they will do what we tell them to. If you missed these previous articles go check them out!

This installment is going to bring everything full circle. Using the skills discussed in the previous three installments - increasing positive attention for desirable behaviors, pairing that with active ignoring when necessary, and using effective commands – should have a significant positive influence on child behavior and a parent’s relationship with the child. These are all ways to manage child behavior with less negativity than traditional punishment techniques. For example, active ignoring works very well at reducing the ‘annoying and obnoxious’ behaviors.

However, as discussed in installment two, active ignoring is not appropriate for all behaviors. Time-out can often be successful in situations where active ignoring is inappropriate. For example, we would not want to use active ignoring to follow up with noncompliance to an effective command such as discussed in installment three. This is a perfect time to use time-out.

Some parents believe that time-out does not work well for their child. However, while many have tried time-out as a form of discipline, actual methods of implementation vary widely. There are some modifications that can greatly increase the success of time-out. Research has shown time-out to be an effective discipline strategy for young children. It is greatly preferred to some other discipline strategies, such as spanking, which generally encourages more violence from children. Here are some modifications to consider making to time-out in your home. Like the other installments in this series, these work best for children approximately aged two to seven.

First, we want to keep the same principle of trying not to give extra attention to misbehavior. After you have initiated a time-out, try to ignore the child’s attention-seeking behaviors. For example, if a child whines, cries, yells, says mean things, asks questions, etc., ignore these while he is in time-out. This includes escorting the child to time-out as well. We generally encourage time-out to take place in an adult-sized chair. While escorting the child to the chair, try to remain calm and silent and get your child into the chair as quickly as possible while being safe and calm.

Time-out works best when used to punish deliberate noncompliance. For example, good situations to use time-out would be when a child refuses to comply with a command, or if a child breaks a clear house rule such as ‘no hitting.’ Again here, this way we know for sure that we are punishing deliberate noncompliance. Time-out will not be as effective when the contingency is less clear. In other words, time-out will work better in the situations described than if we spontaneously decide time outto use time-out to punish a new behavior without warning. That being said, once a warning has been given, parents need to follow through with actual time-out. It is tempting to give children several warnings and chances to avoid punishment because that punishment is taxing on caregivers as well. This is another instance in which consistency is very important. If we are not consistent with following through on warnings, children learn that warnings may not actually lead to punishment, and they are less likely to comply.

Maintaining consistency regarding how long the time-out is and what the child must do to get out of time-out can improve success with this technique as well. Research has shown that a time-out lasting three minutes is adequate for children aged two to seven. Parents are encouraged to keep track of the time without an audible timer that children can hear – we want kids to learn that you are the boss, not the timer. Additionally, it can be helpful to wait until a child is relatively quiet before letting them out of time-out, meaning they are not screaming, yelling, etc. – mumbling to themselves or other quiet ways of passing the time are okay. Waiting until children are quiet to leave time-out helps them to learn appropriate behaviors and how to calm themselves down. To implement this combination, parents would have time-out last at least three minutes. If at the end of three minutes, the child is quiet, you can start the getting out of time-out routine. If not, wait for the child to quiet and then start the getting out of time-out routine.

After the time-out is complete, parents are encouraged to address the original noncompliance. In the example of not following a command, this could again be instructing the child to complete the command. In the case of breaking a house rule, this could be restating the house rule, for example, “Remember, hitting is not allowed.” Consistency with clear contingencies is important for effective time-out and for all behavioral parenting skills.

Thank you for reading this series. I hope it has been helpful in managing disruptive behavior in young children. If you would like more information regarding these concepts and skills, are interested in applying these principles for older children, or are having significant difficulty managing your child’s behavior, consider calling the clinic to schedule behavior management therapy, in which a clinician can work with your family to implement these principles on an individualized basis.


Several concepts were adapted from the empirically supported treatment Parent-Child Interaction Therapy created by Shelia Eyberg and Beverly Funderburk.