Timeout tips

In my last post, I compared the cultural perception of timeouts with timeouts the Ezzo way. Here I’ll offer some tips on how to implement this form of timeout.

Briefly, here is what you don’t want to do:

  • Have him sit for the sake of sitting
  • Have him sit in or near the main area of the house
  • Chase after him to make him sit when he won’t
  • Issue a set time limit of one minute per year of age
  • Tell your child what he did wrong
  • Require a simple “sorry” by way of apology
  • Ignore the state of the child’s heart
  • Give hugs and kisses and assume all is right

When you do timeouts the Ezzo way, you want to:

  • Isolate him by sending him to his room or some other spot away from the main activity of the house
  • Seek a happy and repentant heart
  • Determine the length of the time out based on how long it takes for your child’s heart to be in the right place
  • Allow your child to determine how long he needs to sit
  • Rely on first-time obedience to keep your child in his timeout
  • Have your child tell you want he did wrong, not the other way around
  • Have your child offer a sincere apology
  • Have him apologize to others he offended or have him right the wrong in some other way
  • Follow these tips whether you’re at home or at the store, a friend’s house, in the car, at the park, etc.

Putting these ideas into practice will vary depending on your child’s age. Here is how timeouts work in my home:

My 5-year-old

When William does something wrong, I will immediately send him to his room to sit on his bed. I don’t issue warnings (he’s old enough to know what he’s doing), yell or repeat myself. He’s not allowed to do anything while sitting (play with a toy, read a book or listen to music). If he goes reluctantly, that’s my indication that I will likely need to set a time limit, and I will tell him he will sit twice as long if he doesn’t go right away. I don’t chase after him, drag him by the hand or even follow him upstairs. (Here is where all your work in achieving first-time obedience pays off.)

While he’s sitting, I will walk by his room or peek in on him with the video monitor to check the look on his face. If he’s still angry, I’ll keep him there. If he seems peaceful and ready to repent, I will go in to talk to him.

When I talk to him, I don’t tell him what he did wrong. I have him look me in the eye and tell me. At five years old, he knows what he did wrong. There are times when he won’t look me in the eye, or he will say he doesn’t know or that he forgets. When I hear this, I will walk away and tell him I will come back when he can tell me what he did wrong. I know he knows. When this happens, it’s usually something serious that he did that he really doesn’t want to own up to or say out loud.

When he’s ready and willing to tell me what he did wrong, I will ask him why it was wrong. This is where your moral training pays off. You want a true reason. Something along the lines of “I disrespected you” or “My unkindness hurts my brother’s feelings” is acceptable. You need more than just “It’s wrong” or “It’s bad.”

When I can tell that he’s sincerely repented his actions and knows why they were wrong, we will talk about what he can do to make it right. Usually, this involves looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m sorry for ____.” If he hurt his brother, I will require him to offer his brother a sincere apology while looking him in the eye. There is more to this idea of restoration, which I will discuss in a future post.

Once he has apologized, I will offer my forgiveness by giving him a hug. This allows us to wipe the slate clean and not hold any grudges, which is a huge motivation in disciplining your child.

My 2-year-old

Timeouts are very different for Lucas, who is just 2. His timeouts happen in his crib upstairs or in the playpen we have set up downstairs. When he is old enough to be out of a crib, we will start having timeouts on his bed. Obviously, first-time obedience is not as much of a concern here because I simply pick him up and put him in.

With Lucas, I react just as quickly and swiftly as I do with William. Again, he knows what he did wrong. His offenses are different, but if he deserves a timeout, it means he knows better.

I won’t set a time limit for Lucas either. I will peek in on him or check the video monitor to see the look on his face. With Lucas, I can often check the status of his heart just by listening to him. If he’s crying or screaming, he’s not giving me a happy and repentant heart. In this case, I will go to him the minute he quiets down.

As I get ready to discuss his offense, I double-check his heart. When I bend down to look him in the eye, he will either look me in the eye or he will turn away or even lie down in the crib. If he looks me in the eye, I know he’s ready. If he turns away, I know he needs more time. If this is the case, I will walk away, telling him I will come back when he’s happy.

Since Lucas isn’t very verbal, I will tell him what he did wrong and why it was wrong. I will ask him if what he did was wrong, expecting him to nod his head. I will ask him if he understands, upon which I always get a “yes, mommy.” I will then tell him to tell me he’s sorry, which he says in his own toddler way. If there is more that needs to be done (like pick up the food he threw on the floor or tell his brother he’s sorry), I have him do that as soon as I take him out of the crib. (Again, here’s where your work on first-time obedience pays off.) Then we do hugs and kisses.

As you can imagine, getting his heart in the right place is what’s most important for Lucas. There is less to discuss simply because he’s not as verbal as William. The discussion is more one-way, which is fine. As he gets older, I will require him to tell me what he did wrong, why it was wrong and make it right.

To conclude, make sure you follow every step of the timeout process to ensure your child learns from it. If his behaviors aren’t improving, it’s possible you’re missing a step and need to reevaluate your timeouts. Above all, stay calm. Your child will obey and respect you more readily if you react swiftly and calmly. And don’t forget those hugs and kisses. Your child needs to know that you love and forgive him and that the end of a timeout means a fresh start.


Filed under discipline, first-time obedience, moral training

25 responses to “Timeout tips

  1. Kristin

    At what age do you start doing this? I have a 17 month old and a 3 year old (already doing it with him). We started time-outs for my 3 year old when he was about 18 months. He was a bit more advanced for his age though. Are there signs that you look for?

  2. Maureen


    You have to use your judgment, but 17 months is not too young to start timeouts. We often don’t give our children, especially our second children, enough credit. They understand far more than they can communicate. But to know for sure, evaluate your current methods. Are they working? If you redirect or say “don’t touch” will he listen and obey? Are there any behaviors that just grate on your nerves? Think about chronic misbehaviors, too. We started timeouts with Lucas when he was about 13 months old and only did them when he would throw his bottle from the highchair. My other tactics had stopped working and it had been going on for far too long. The timeout was very effective. But I had to be really consistent about it or he would go back to throwing his bottle. Does that help?

  3. Jennifer Glogorski

    I really like what I have read about the Ezzo way for time outs except for one thing. Is putting the child in time out in their bed going to make them associate their bed with negativity? I have a 2 year old that loves his bed and I love that about him. I have been doing time out in corners which are easy to find wherever we are (home, store, restaurant, etc.). What problems could I run into with that? And what do you suggest I do when he tries to correct his behavior while I am taking him to a time out spot (bed, corner, wherever)?

  4. Maureen

    Hi Jennifer,

    That is a common objection. But a toddler knows the difference between being in bed for a timeout vs. settling down to go to sleep. The only common thing is his bed. But for sleep, you turn the light off, snuggle a bit before you put him down, have a sweet, quiet demeanor. With a timeout, you leave the light on and use your stern mommy voice when putting him in. But if he will stay in a corner for timeout, then that’s fine. Just be sure he will stay there without you chasing him down and that it’s isolated away from the rest of the house. And yes, if you use a corner at home and he will stay, then it is easier for you to administer timeouts in public. I don’t see any problems with that. Again, just make sure he’s isolated.

    If he tries to correct his behavior when on the way to a timeout, you must still follow through. Tell him that’s nice that he wants to obey, but he needed to obey you the first time. That is why he’s getting a timeout. Tell him when his timeout is over, then he can show you how he can behave appropriately.

  5. Amanda

    Thanks so much for the clarification on how to look for a “happy heart” in a toddler. That’s where I was lost when reading the time out method in the Ezzo books. I can definitely see the same things happening with Tobias when he’s done something wrong and is in time-out. He won’t look me in the eye a lot of times, in which case I refuse to get him out of time out.

    I do have a question though. Tobias is really very stubborn and if I truly required a happy heart he could be in time out for a long, long time. If I’m correct a happy heart for a toddler would be characterized by:
    1) not screaming or crying anymore
    2) look me in the eye
    3) say “sorry”

    If it takes a long time for me to get those things, how long is too long? I could see this going on for 20-30 minutes, but then maybe it’s like CIO and once you start it’s not really as long as you think it’ll be?

  6. Maureen

    Hi Amanda,

    I think you’re right in equating it to CIO. And like CIO, I think it will only take 3-4 times until he figures out that you’re not going to budge on this happy heart issue. Your three points on identifying a happy heart are right on. Be sure to tell him what you expect and then wait him out. Of course, you could always try getting him out of a timeout sooner when you’re not quite sure about his heart, but I suspect he’ll go right back to repeating the behavior. Think about trying it both ways and see where it gets you. Then you’ll have your proof.

  7. Kristin


    That does help. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I thought I had subscribed to follow-up comments and hadn’t gotten the e-mail notification. We’re really struggling with our 3-year-old right now with first time obedience. I’m writing a discipline plan up tonight. Thank you so much for your blog. I love it and love that I know I’ll want to read every post (very little fluff here). 🙂

  8. Kristin

    One more question… when you “redirect and say, “don’t touch”. What do you mean by redirect? Are you finding something else for him to do? Right now one of the things my 17-month-old does is grab our plant or play in the dirt. Am I not doing enough by telling him we don’t play with the plant and sending him in another direction?

  9. Maureen

    Yes, there is that extra step of activating your account when you sign up for email notifications. Thanks for the compliments on the blog. And I never thought about not having fluff. That’s good to know. I just see it as not having enough time to post! I wish I could post more often!

  10. Maureen

    Yes, redirect means just that. You redirect their attention to something else. So if he’s playing in the plant, you just bring out a new toy or something else that draws him away from the plant. I did this most when my kids were babies, but it could work with a 17mo. Often, by that age, they’re on to us so redirection doesn’t always work. All you have to do is ask yourself if what you are doing is working. If you redirect for the same plant thing 10 times in one day (or even 2 times a day every day), then it’s not working. It’s time to up the ante and try a discipline method.

  11. Lonica

    I just found your blog and am loving the very specific implementations of the Ezzo ideas. It’s a bit premature for me (my daughter is only 6.5 months), but I like thinking ahead and knowing where I’m going–Proactive Parenting, right? I have a hypothetical question, well, two actually.

    (1) You mention being consitent with the timeouts, no matter where you are, park, store, friends, etc. How to you feasibly do this when they are used to having timeouts in their bed? Do you somehow restrain them at the park? Do you head home immediately? How does that work for you?

    (2) You mention letting them go in timeout for as long as needed, like CIO. I can see the use in this, but I’m wondering (on the practical side), what if you physically can’t leave them there for as long as it takes to get a “happy heart”? Say, you need to take the older sibling to preschool or some other something that you can’t adjust or delay. What do you do then?

    Once more, thanks for the real world applications of the theories–I’m loving it!


  12. Maureen

    Hi Lonica,

    That’s great you are getting a head start. To answer your questions:

    1) This is where your first-time obedience training comes in. I don’t ever restrain my kids for a timeout. Since they have a decent level of FTO, they will sit for a timeout wherever we are. We don’t get that element of isolation in there, because I obviously can’t leave their side when we’re out, so me standing there does help to keep them in place. I will also attach logical consequences for disobeying when in timeout. We were at the park the other day and my older son was really rough with another kid. If I didn’t have my friend’s kids with me, we would have just left. But he got a timeout on the park bench instead. He tested me by moving on the bench and sitting on the stroller. I told him if he didn’t sit exactly where I told him to, he would have to sit for much longer and not have any time to play before we had to go home. This worked for my 5yo but it can work for a younger child, too. I imagine my 2yo would have obeyed, but if he didn’t I might have also put him in the stroller. Many times when we’re out, he isn’t responsible to stay near me or listen to me, so he will go in the stroller or shopping cart. It’s a very logical consequence that doesn’t require a timeout.

    2) Yes, life definitely does get in the way of discipline. Often, I recommend that if you’re just starting out or really focusing on a particular behavior to stay home as much as possible for 3-5 days. It’s best when you can block out that time since you’ll get more accomplished in a shorter period of time. (Again, the same goes with CIO.) If we are on our way out or even if we’re out, I will tell them they will get their timeout when we get home. When I remind them of why they’re getting the timeout, it can be just as effective. One thing I do when we’re out and my older son is misbehaving is tack on more time to his timeout. It works better than doing a timeout in the store since he needs more time usually. So for example, for his first misbehavior, I’ll say he’s getting 5 minutes on his bed and that every misbehavior after that adds another 5 minutes. He doesn’t have a very clear understanding of time, but he knows the difference between a short timeout and a long one. It is definitely a motivation for him to improve his behavior.

    Hope that helps!


  13. Lonica

    Thanks for the reply Maureen!

  14. ys

    In your descriptions of your timeouts for your 5 yo vs 2 yo, they are obviously very different because of the different ages.,,,one is a toddler and one is an older preschooler (or ready to start school) How did you graduate from the toddler timeout in the crib/playpen to the room? I guess I’m wondering how you start to transition as they get older. For example, when your toddler is 3 I imagine it’d be different from 2. Could you describe how you transitioned? Is it basically just based on their FTO training?

  15. Maureen

    Yes, FTO plays a big part in transitioning to an unrestricted area for timeouts. With my older son, we didn’t start timeouts on his bed until he was about 4 years old. And I didn’t do them in the crib/playpen like I do with his brother. Part of the reason was that he had learned to climb out of the crib when he was 2. When I started timeouts with him (probably around 15 months), I did them in a spot in the living room. I would sit there with him and keep putting him back over and over when he got up. It worked, but eventually, these timeouts lost their effect because he wasn’t isolated. A friend was here once and she commented on how he didn’t seem to care, since he was sitting right there in the room with us.

    Soon after that (around age 3), we transitioned to the small bathroom downstairs. He had to sit on the toilet (lid closed, obviously) and have the door closed. Sometimes, I kept the light off. His FTO was good enough that I didn’t worry about him playing in there. And even if he did, I could hear him and act immediately if he did. These timeouts worked better because he was isolated.

    When we transitioned to timeouts on his bed, his level of FTO was pretty good. At first, I had to walk him up the stairs and tell him to sit and not play with anything. Now he knows the drill and will walk up on his own. If he doesn’t or if he stalls, I will add time to his timeout (with a warning first).

    Does that help?


  16. ys

    Yes, I too have found that timeouts aren’t effective anymore if she is not isolated. I used to do in a corner of the room facing the wall or I’d put in the playyard (as it contained her) but I sometimes was in the kitchen and she could see me. She does not like it if I leave…..so I think the isolation is the key (whereas my 21 month old is effective still in those places). I have a bathroom downstairs but the issue is she tries to open the door. And it’s one of those doors that basically lock from the inside. So what do you do with that? I held the door and told her she needs to sit down and this went on for a while (she kept crying and trying to get out). After a while (basically when I figured it went on long enough as I wasn’t sure what to do) we went over what she did wrong, the apology,etc. So did you ever have a similar situation? We had the same issue when I tried it once in her room. I’m not sure exactly how to handle it and how to keep her there.

  17. Maureen

    It sounds like you need to do more work on FTO. If she won’t stay in the bathroom with the door closed, then you can’t use that as a timeout spot. If I were you, I’d do a little FTO bootcamp. Stay home for a few days and practice, practice, practice on getting FTO. Go back and look at my posts on FTO and “yes, mommy”. You need her to submit to you and whatever discipline you give her. In the mean time, do what you can for timeouts without having to physically restrain her (or the door). Will she stay in a timeout in a corner? Yes, it’s better if she’s isolated, but it sounds like you need to work up to that. Or if she’s still in a crib, do it there. Or move the playpen to a spot where she can’t see you. Also be sure you are practicing blanket time and other activities that require her to play in one spot for a set amount of time. If you haven’t been doing it, start with just 3 minutes and add a few minutes at a time.

  18. ys

    I’ve been doing FTO retraining with pretty good results. She absolutely hates it if I leave her. She will stay in a corner of a room but they are not as effective as she isn’t isolated. She sometimes comes up and I have to bring her back,etc. We will do it over and over and I will tell her that I will do this as long as I need to until she stays. It is just testing. My question is, if she is in timeout because of a consequence (such as hitting her sister) and she is not staying in timeout/having a fit, can I issue a consequence for that? The timeout is the consequence of the original behaviour, but if she is throwing a fit and testing timeout limits and keeps coming out over and over, can I say something like “sorry but you can’t watch TV time now as your behaviour is unacceptable”. Can you do a consequence for a consequence?
    I am really trying to be calm, matter-of-fact and completely consistent. I know a lot of the “pitfalls” and common mistakes and am very mindful of them. What completely drives me nuts sometimes is DH. I have told him things over and over and over and he agrees and nods his head but does these things over and over. (And don’t get me started on visitors and others…I have some major retraining to do next week!) I just feel like I am the only one here who does things consistently. I know this is somewhat off-topic but I am frustrated by it and feel it is confusing to them too.

  19. Maureen

    To answer your question about misbehavior during a timeout, I wouldn’t issue another consequence. I believe the Mom’s Notes have a different stance on this because throwing a fit during a timeout is a form of challenging your authority. And the way they recommend treating that is with spanking. I won’t get into the spanking discussion now, but if you don’t spank, I don’t see much point in doing two consequences for one misbehavior. Plus, taking away TV time is totally unrelated. The only thing I might do is make her stay in timeout even longer.

    As for your DH, you can only encourage him. I would highly recommend that you both take the Growing Kids God’s Way class if you haven’t. If your church doesn’t offer it, you can try calling around to find one that does. Or go to the Resources page of this blog to find a contact mom in your area. She will be able to help you find a class. If you can’t or if your DH still does things his own way, you just have to do your best. And don’t forget that your daughter will figure you both out. I suspect he will have more trouble eventually, and when he does he might come to you for suggestions.

  20. ys

    ok thank you. She is over 3 and climbing out of the playyard and just testing limits….so I guess the best thing is to just return over and over and do it longer. I wasn’t sure if getting out of timeout was considered another misbehaviour and could have another consequence or those were the same.
    Our church doesn’t offer the course and I wish it did! But I can see if there are some in the area possibly. DH is on the same page in theory but it is just that he seems to have a hard time to implement it. I know it involves having to totally rethink the way you do things and it can be hard as you basically have to train yourself! It is nothing intentional on his end but I guess I’ll just have to keep going over and over and over with him (and my kids:)

  21. Maureen

    Yeah, I would just keep putting her back. But I think you should also think about your first-time obedience training. You really need to get that heart of submission from her. Look through all my posts on FTO and buckle down and do it. Make that your main focus of everything you do for the next week or two. The Mom’s Notes even say to not discipline for other things when you’re working on FTO. That’s because you won’t be able to do isolation/timeouts effectively (which is the position you’re in). You don’t want to turn into those parents on Supernanny where they keep putting them back for 2+ hours. This is good for your husband, too. Try spelling it out for him. Write down on an index card which behavior it is that you’re working on (I recommend FTO to start) and write specifically what the consequence is for disobedience. You can see my post on creating a discipline plan for more. Have him work with you to decide what you will write down. Then you know you have his agreement and can point to the card when he goes off course. I think that will help him remember, too, if there’s just one or two things that you are working on. I still recommend the class. My contact mom and her husband ended up teaching us the class in their home because there weren’t any classes in our area.

  22. Pingback: FTO Fundamentals: Completely « Childwise Chat

  23. Marci

    I just found this blog recently. I love it. I have been doing GKGW since the birth of my 1st son 5 years ago. My 2nd son is 13 months and it’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with pre toddler issues. My question is how would you deal with screaming/screeching/crying/whining. I feel like he is doing one of those a great deal during the day. He is not really talking yet, but he does sign please and all done. He screams if I get up while he is eating. He screams if he wants something. He just makes screeches when we are at restaurants. You get the idea. Would you use time out for this? Would you keep taking him to the car every time he does it in the restaurant? I really need it to stop for my sanity. My 5 year old used to whine, but he was older and easier to deal with at that age. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  24. Maureen

    Hi Marci. Glad you like the blog. I went through a similar phase with my youngest. If I were you, I would do a little 3-day bootcamp to help him kick the habit. I’m sure that’s what it is. Somewhere along the line, his screaming/whining worked. Then it just became a habit. So pick a solid three days where you can be home, preferably when your husband is home so he can help and keep you on task. I would use timeout for this. Before you start, sit down with your son and tell him what your plan is. Even if he doesn’t fully comprehend, at least you’ve done your best to set him up for success. Tell him that his screaming/whining isn’t acceptable and that every time he does it, he will get a timeout. Then follow through! Don’t even give him a second chance. No warnings. No waiting to see if he’ll stop when you tell him to. Just pick him up the second he starts and put him in a crib or playpen. When you do so, tell him you will get him out when he’s happy. Make sure you show no emotion while you do this. When you get him out, remind him why he got the timeout and do hugs and kisses. If he screams again just five minutes after his timeout ended, put him back in. It won’t be easy, but keep in mind, you are only doing this for three days and it will definitely get worse before it gets better.

    After those three days, you can try going out in public. When I do timeouts in public, I usually take him to the bathroom and just stand in the corner while holding him. I give him a stern talking to and make him apologize for what he did. The act of spontaneously taking him out of his chair and quickly walking him to the bathroom usually scares some sense into him. But I wouldn’t go out until you’ve done the bulk of the work at home.

    Oh, and be sure you aren’t ever giving into the whine. If you’re holding something he wants and he’s whining for it, shush him and make him stop before you give it to him. Reinforce the signing while you do. The sign for please is a good one since it will work for anything.

    Does that help? Good luck!

  25. Marci

    Thank you so much for your quick and thoughtful response. I’ll get to it the next three days I have that will work for us.

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