The Time-Out Space should be the most boring place in your house where your child can be safely left alone. For toddlers it might be inside a playpen, or in their crib with no toys. For preschoolers my favorite place was the landing of the stairs. Other ideas might be in the hallway with bedroom doors closed.
The Time Out Space should be devoid of entertainment and distractions and other people. It should be completely boring; a good place to think about your actions; a good place to realize that what you were doing before was more fun than being here; a good place to make a plan for how to improve your behaviour and get back into the game; a good place to cool off from flaring emotions.
I use the Time Out Space as a place for punishment. When this is the case I set a timer and tell the child that they can return to find me when the timer goes off. When the timer goes off and they come to me we discuss the incident that led to the time-out and plan a strategy for avoiding such an unfortunate incident in the future. (Timers make things easy. In case you haven’t noticed, I like easy. With a timer keeping track of the time-out, I can go do something productive, or just relax without watching the clock – I’m not the one being punished, after all.)
If the child comes to find me before the timer has rung then I return them to the spot and say:
“Oh, no, I’ll have to start the timer over again. Back you go.” It doesn’t take very many times of this happening before they learn to stay in the time out spot on their own.
Guidelines for how long to time a child out:
1-2 years: up to a minute
3-4 years: up to 3 or 4 minutes
5 years and up: up to 5 minutes. *No more than this.
*The point is to have time to miss the fun. The time out is not the punishment, missing out on the fun or interaction is the punishment. My kids didn’t need long time-outs to adapt poor behavior into good behaviour. They hated being on time-out. A one minute time-out was the longest I ever needed.