Decades of research show that using time-outs the correct way is a proven way to help correct behaviors. Yes, they sometimes get a bad rap, usually because parents are using them for punishment, which isn't the intended purpose. Some parents see no difference in behavior, so they don't believe it works. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), times-outs are still one of the most highly recommended forms of discipline, not punishment.

That being said, time-outs don't always work. Toddlers, and/or kids in preschool don't take it seriously. They won't sit still, they won't be quiet, and they continue to misbehave during a time-out, whatever it may be, it's a common problem. A lot of parents look for ways to help improve time-outs.

Related:Do Time-Outs Work For Older Kids?

Why It's Hard For Kids To Sit Still

Should We Continue To Use A _Baby Voice_ When Talking To Toddlers_
a toddler smiling at the camera

Little children have a way of staring blankly at their parents that almost makes them feel like they are in the wrong. Having a three-year-old roll their eyes at you, it's a little humorous just because it's so unexpected. This is a sweet little child, why are they not listening and going into time-out like they are told?

According to PBS, preschoolers have very little impulse control. The part of the brain responsible for exerting control over the emotional, impulsive part is not nearly developed in children under three. Add that to the 3–6-minute attention span, and you have a child who can't sit still because honestly, they don't fully understand what they are supposed to do.

Being consistent is the key. Parents may want to make a list of reasons they have given time-outs. This will help the other parent if the child does the same thing with them. If they are put on time-out for a reason one day, and not the next, they are really not going to catch on. Consistency and follow-through go a long way.

Getting A Child To Sit Still, Maybe

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Some parents follow the minute-per-year rule. Meaning, if the child is three, they sit for three minutes in a time-out. Kids that age may or may not be able to sit still that long. Realistically, three minutes is a long time to just sit and not do anything for someone who is constantly moving, exploring, and learning new things. As soon as your child has calmed down, the time-out has served its purpose. If that only takes 90 seconds, then it's over in 90 seconds.

Children figure this out too. After a few times of consistent direction:

  • Being told why they are going to time-out
  • What is expected in time-out
  • How they get out of time-out

Followed by consistent follow-through, it does eventually sink in. Practicing patience is a good idea during this time. Children are not purposely trying to antagonize their parents at this age. They just don't have the brain development that most people "expect" them to have.

Sometimes parents find that their child keeps getting up from time-out to walk over to them or do something else. Depending on the age of the child and overall development, this child probably is not mature enough to understand what is going on.

The CDC recommends a five-second rule. If the child can sit quietly for at least five seconds in a time-out it's a good start. Time-outs are not meant to last long. Three to four minutes should be about the most. If the child cannot follow through at all, it might be something to mention to the doctor.

Praise The Next Good Thing

Always praise the next good thing a child does after a time-out. Remembering that while time-outs are not used to punish a child, they may feel that way. Most adults don't know the difference between discipline and punishment. This is why it is important the child knows exactly why they are getting a time-out. The praise afterward reminds them that they can do good things and make good choices. It might also help mom if she feels a little guilty.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, PBS, CDC