Categories: Family Matters
      Date: Mar 28, 2008
     Title: A Time-Out and a Place

Learn to use the popular behavior modification technique

By Cary and Tonja Rector

A typical toddler might require correction 100 to 150 times each day. No wonder parent and toddler are exhausted by bedtime! That’s a lot of work and fertile ground for conflict. Managing parent-child conflict may include the behavioral technique of “time-out.”




screaming child
© Hanna Derecka | Dreamstime.com


A typical toddler might require correction 100 to 150 times each day. No wonder parent and toddler are exhausted by bedtime! That’s a lot of work and fertile ground for conflict. Managing parent-child conflict may include the behavioral technique of “time-out.”


As any parent can tell you, raising preschool children requires training the child on the rules of belonging to a family and functioning in society. In a family, an individual is not always able to do as he wishes; sometimes he has to do what is best for the group. Much of a family’s work requires cooperation from all members. Winning cooperation from a toddler family member can be dicey.

Developmentally, preschool children are self-focused (egocentric) and have a strong need to be independent and to feel as if they are in control of just about everything.

Some children are born with temperaments that are more work than others, even within the same family. As therapists, we have developed a great respect for knowing a child’s developmental level and being aware of individual children’s temperaments.

For parents, it’s helpful to know a toddler requires a lot of limit-setting on a daily basis. Also, consider if the behavior you are expecting from your child is one that she is developmentally ready to produce. Remember, this age group is striving to establish independence. Pick your fights carefully and allow your toddler to have as much control over decisions and activities as you can tolerate.

In our practice we suggest a time-out be viewed as a brief reminder that a behavior is unacceptable. There may be moments of frustration where as a parent, you wish for a technique to change your child for the rest of his life. Training, however, requires consistent and repeated reminders of what to do, and what not to do. It’s also important to keep in mind that children learn from example, so keep track of your own behavior and how it might be influencing your toddler.

Time-out is a technique you can use for some of this social “training” and has the added benefit of giving a worn out parent a quick break. Here is our lowdown on using time-out.


Helping an independent-minded toddler learn to cooperate with the larger needs of a family and society is an ongoing, daily undertaking. Time-out can be a useful tool to remind children about acceptable behavior. Keep in mind your own behavioral example, as well as your child’s temperament and developmental level. Using the aforementioned guidelines will help ensure time-out is a success for parent and toddler alike.

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of editorial@familytimes.biz. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.