As parents, we’re always wondering how effective the use of timeout may be. The term “timeout” is often used as a solution to stop undesirable behaviors. As a young father, I have caught myself many times using timeouts only to realize that my Child does not see how what he/she was doing was inappropriate and would often time return to the same behaviors, much to my frustration. 

The Key Elements of Timeout

For parents to be more effective using timeouts, certain key elements need to be established. 

Whether we use this tool to help our children or ourselves, keep the following key factors: 

Awareness of Tension Levels

It is important to recognize when tension levels are rising to have the most success using the time out. If we wait until emotions are at their peak, it may be too late. It is easier to deal with sparks from an open flame than to battle a raging forest fire! 

Call for a Timeout

How many times have you walked away during a heated discussion with your spouse or Child, thinking you were doing them a favor, only to find that your leaving made matters worse? As parents, if there’s one thing our Child can do to get on our last nerve, it is to walk away from us while we are talking to them. Mentioning or suggesting a timeout maintains open communication with our loved one and conveys how we are feeling and does so with respect. 

Specify the Time Needed

It’s also essential that if a timeout is requested, that it be time-limited. State how much time is necessary. In most cases, an hour is sufficient. Indicate how much time you will be taking and include where you will be and what you will be doing (i.e., I will be upstairs listening to my iPod for 30 minutes or walking the dog for half an hour) Again, you are letting your loved one know that the discussion is important and that you prefer to continue after you both have had time to cool down. 

Timeout Activity

What you do during the timeout will depend on your situation and circumstances. Ideally, an activity that increases your heart rate and gets blood pumping throughout your body may be best. Walking the dog, going for a bike ride, or lifting weights are some examples.

For some people, just doing something to ease the tension and relax can help (i.e., take a nap, watch TV, or meditate). Drinking or using drugs should not be an option, and driving should be avoided if possible. 


Again, as indicated earlier, time outs have often been used as the solution to an issue. However, it is important to remember that they are only tools to allow sufficient time for emotions to settle and dissipate. It is critical to continue the discussion after the time out, using strong communication skills, reasoning, and appropriate expression of feelings. 


Did the time out help? If not, more time may be needed. Feel free to go back to Step 2 and begin the process again. Don’t feel like a failure if it didn’t work the first time. Practicing timeouts will help you become more familiar with the steps necessary, thereby becoming more effective in utilizing timeouts.