Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 1–8 | Cite as

Parental Use of Time Out Revisited: A Useful or Harmful Parenting Strategy?

  • Alina MorawskaEmail author
  • Matthew Sanders
Original Paper


Time out has been widely advocated as an effective parental discipline practice to reduce disruptive and oppositional child behaviour in young children. Despite evidence showing that the procedure is effective when used as part of a comprehensive positive parenting strategy it has not been uniformly accepted and critics have questioned its effectiveness and potentially adverse effects on the parent–child relationship. This paper examines the controversy surrounding the use of time out, discusses the criticisms levelled against it, and concludes that its judicious use in parent training programs is justified and is of benefit to many children with conduct problems. Factors that influence the effectiveness of time out and some contraindications are also discussed.


Time out Parenting Child behaviour Discipline Parenting strategies 


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (1998). Guidance for effective discipline. Pediatrics, 101(4), 723–728.Google Scholar
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Policy statement. Pediatrics, 114(4), 1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, K. A., & King, H. E. (1974). Time-out reconsidered. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 1(2), 11–17.Google Scholar
  4. Arndorfer, R. E., Allen, K. D., & Aliazireh, L. (1999). Behavioral health needs in pediatric medicine and the acceptability of behavioral solutions: Implications for behavioral psychologists. Behavior Therapy, 30(1), 137–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behaviour. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43–88.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bean, A. W., & Roberts, M. W. (1981). The effect of time-out release contingencies on changes in child noncompliance. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 9(1), 95–105.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Benjamin, R., Mazzarins, H., & Kupfersmid, J. (1983). The effect of time-out (TO) duration on assaultiveness in psychiatrically hospitalized children. Aggressive Behavior, 9, 21–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blampied, N. M., & Kahan, E. (1992). Acceptability of alternative punishments: A community survey. Behavior Modification, 16(3), 400–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brantner, J. P., & Doherty, M. A. (1983). A review of timeout: A conceptual and methodological analysis. In S. Axelrod & J. Apsche (Eds.), The effects of punishment on human behavior (pp. 87–132). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  10. Calvert, S. C., & McMahon, R. J. (1987). The treatment acceptability of a behavioral parent training program and its components. Behavior Therapy, 18(2), 165–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cedar, B., & Levant, R. F. (1990). A meta-analysis of the effects of parent effectiveness training. American Journal of Family Therapy, 18(4), 373–384.Google Scholar
  12. Clewett, A. S. (1988). Guidance and discipline: Teaching young children appropriate behaviour. Young Children, 43(4), 26–31.Google Scholar
  13. Crespi, T. D. (1988). Effectiveness of time-out: A comparison of psychiatric, correctional and day-treatment programs. Adolescence, 23(92), 805–811.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. (1996). Emotional security as a regulatory process in normal development and the development of psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 123–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cunningham, C. E., Bremmer, R., & Boyle, M. H. (1995). Large group community-based parenting programs for families of preschoolers at risk for disruptive behavior disorders: Utilisation, cost effectiveness and outcome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36, 1141–1159.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Dadds, M. R., Adlington, F. M., & Christensen, A. P. (1987). Children’s perceptions of time out and other maternal disciplinary strategies: The effects of clinic status and exposure to behavioural treatment. Behaviour Change, 4(4), 3–13.Google Scholar
  17. Drabman, R. S., & Jarvie, G. (1977). Counseling parents of children with behavior problems: The use of extinction and time-out techniques. Pediatrics, 59, 78–85.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Erford, B. T. (1999). A modified time-out procedure for children with noncompliant or defiant behaviors. Professional School Counseling, 2(3), 205–210.Google Scholar
  19. Everett, G. E., Olmi, D. J., Edwards, R. P., Tingstrom, D. H., Sterling-Turner, H. E., & Christ, T. J. (2007). An empirical investigation of time-out with and without escape extinction to treat escape-maintained noncompliance. Behavior Modification, 31(4), 412–434.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Eyberg, S. (1988). Parent-child interaction therapy: Integration of traditional and behavioral concerns. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 10, 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fabiano, G. A., Pelham, W. E., Jr., Manos, M. J., Gnagy, E. M., Chronis, A. M., Onyango, A. N., et al. (2004). An evaluation of three time-out procedures for children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Behavior Therapy, 35(3), 449–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Firestone, P. (1976). The effects and side effects of timeout on an aggressive nursery school child. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 7(1), 79–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ford, A. D., Olmi, D. J., Edwards, R. P., & Tingstrom, D. H. (2001). The sequential introduction of compliance training components with elementary-aged children in general education. School Psychology Quarterly, 16(2), 142–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Freeman, B. J., Somerset, T., & Ritvo, E. R. (1976). Effect of duration of time out in suppressing disruptive behavior of a severely autistic child. Psychological Reports, 38(1), 124–126.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Gardener, H., Forehand, R., & Roberts, M. W. (1976). Timeout with children: Effects of an explanation and brief parent training on child and parent behaviors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 4, 277–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gartrell, D. (2001). Replacing time-out: Part one—Using guidance to build an encouraging classroom. Young Children, 56(6), 8–16.Google Scholar
  27. Gartrell, D. (2002). Replacing time-out; Part two—Using guidance to maintain an encouraging classroom. Young Children, 57, 36–39.Google Scholar
  28. Grant, L., & Evans, A. N. (1994). Principles of behavior analysis. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  29. Greenberg, M. T., Speltz, M. L., & DeKlyen, M. (1993). The role of attachment in the early development of disruptive behaviour problems. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 191–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hanley, G. P., Iwata, B. A., & McCord, B. E. (2003). Functional analysis of problem behavior: A review. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36(2), 147–185.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Harris, K. R. (1985). Definitional, parametric, and procedural considerations in timeout research and interventions. Exceptional Children, 51(4), 279–288.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Hobbs, S. A., & Forehand, R. (1975). Effects of differential release from time-out on children’s deviant behavior. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 6(3), 256–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hobbs, S. A., & Forehand, R. (1977). Important parameters in the use of timeout with children: A re-examination. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 8, 365–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hobbs, S. A., Forehand, R., & Murray, R. G. (1978). Effects of various durations of timeout on the non-compliant behavior of children. Behavior Therapy, 9(4), 652–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hobbs, S. A., Walle, D. L., & Caldwell, H. S. (1984). Maternal evaluation of social reinforcement and time-out: Effects of brief parent training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52(1), 135–136.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Jones, R. N., & Downing, R. H. (1991). Assessment of the use of timeout in an inpatient child psychiatry treatment unit. Behavioral Residential Treatment, 6(3), 219–230.Google Scholar
  37. Jones, R. N., Sloane, H. N., & Roberts, M. W. (1992). Limitations of “Don’t” instructional control. Behavior Therapy, 23, 131–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Joshi, P. T., Capozzoli, J. A., & Coyle, J. T. (1988). Use of a quiet room on an inpatient unit. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(5), 642–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kaminski, J. W., Valle, L. A., Filene, J. H., & Boyle, C. L. (2008). A meta-analytic review of components associated with parent training program effectiveness. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 567–589.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Kazdin, A. E. (1980). Acceptability of time out from reinforcement procedures for disruptive child behavior. Behavior Therapy, 11(3), 329–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kazdin, A. E. (2005). Parent management training: Treatments for oppositional, aggressive and antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Kazdin, A. E., & Benjet, C. (2003). Spanking children: Evidence and issues. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(3), 99–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kazdin, A. E., & Rotella, C. (2008). The Kazdin method for parenting the defiant child: With no pills, no therapy, no contest of wills. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  44. Larzelere, R. E., Schneider, W. N., Larson, D. B., & Pike, P. L. (1996). The effects of discipline responses in delaying toddler misbehavior recurrences. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 18(3), 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lucas, R. L. (2000). The effects of time-out and DRA on the aggressive behavior of a spirited two-year-old. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 22(2), 51–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. MacDonough, T. S., & Forehand, R. (1973). Response-contingent time-out: Important parameters in behavior modification with children. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 4, 231–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Martin, G., & Pear, J. (2007). Behavior modification: What it is and how to do it (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  48. Masters, K. J., Bellonci, C., & Numerous, C. (2001). Summary of the practice parameter for the prevention and management of aggressive behavior in child and adolescent psychiatric institutions with special reference to seclusion and restraint. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(11), 1356–1358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mathews, J. R., Friman, P. C., Barone, V. J., Ross, L. V., & Christophersen, E. R. (1987). Decreasing dangerous infant behaviors through parent instruction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20(2), 165–169.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Matsumoto, Y., Sofronoff, K., & Sanders, M. (2007). The efficacy and acceptability of the Triple P parenting program in a cross-cultural context: Results of an efficacy trial. Behaviour Change, 24, 205–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McGuffin, R. W. (1991). The effect of timeout duration on frequency of aggression in hospitaIized children with conduct problems. Behavioral Residential Treatment, 6, 279–288.Google Scholar
  52. McNeil, C. B., Clemens-Mowrer, L., Gurwitch, R. H., & Funderburk, B. W. (1994). Assessment of a new procedure to prevent timeout escape in preschoolers. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 16(3), 27–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mooney, S. (1995). Parent training: A review of Adlerian, parent effectiveness training, and behavioral research. The Family Journal, 3, 218–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Morawska, A., & Sanders, M. R. (2006). Self-administered behavioural family intervention for parents of toddlers: Part I—Efficacy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 10–19.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Newsom, C., Favell, J. E., & Rincover, A. (1983). Side effects of punishment. In S. Axelrod & J. Apsche (Eds.), The effects of punishment on human behavior (pp. 285–316). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  56. O’Connell, M. E., Boat, T., & Warner, K. E. (Eds.). (2009). Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.Google Scholar
  57. Olmi, D. J., Sevier, R. C., & Nastasi, D. F. (1997). Time-in/time-out as a response to noncompliance and inappropriate behavior with children with developmental disabilities: Two case studies. Psychology in the Schools, 34, 31–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Olson, R. L., & Roberts, M. W. (1987). Alternative treatments for sibling aggression. Behavior Therapy, 18, 243–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Patterson, G. R. (2005). The next generation of PMTO models. Behavior Therapist, 28(2), 27–33.Google Scholar
  60. Pendergrass, V. E. (1971). Effects of length of time-out from positive reinforcement and schedule application in suppression of aggressive behavior. The Psychological Record, 21, 75–80.Google Scholar
  61. Roberts, M. W. (1982). The effects of warned versus unwarned time-out procedures on child noncompliance. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 4(1), 37–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Roberts, M. W. (1984). An attempt to reduce time out resistance in young children. Behavior Therapy, 15(2), 210–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Roberts, M. W., Hatzenbuehler, L. C., & Bean, A. W. (1981). The effects of differential attention and time out on child noncompliance. Behavior Therapy, 12(1), 93–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Roberts, M. W., & Powers, S. W. (1990). Adjusting chair timeout enforcement procedures for oppositional children. Behavior Therapy, 21(3), 257–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rodgers, A. Y. (1992). Acceptability of time out procedures for school age children: Evaluations by direct care staff and students in child development and child care. Child & Youth Care Forum, 21(3), 195–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sanders, M. R. (1999). Triple P-positive parenting program: Towards an empirically validated multilevel parenting and family support strategy for the prevention of behavior and emotional problems in children. Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review, 2(2), 71–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sanders, M. R. (2008). The Triple P-positive parenting program as a public health approach to strengthening parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(4), 506–517.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Sanders, M. R., Bor, W., & Morawska, A. (2007). Maintenance of treatment gains: A comparison of enhanced, standard, and self-directed triple P-positive parenting program. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35(6), 983–998.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Sanders, M. R., Markie-Dadds, C., Tully, L. A., & Bor, W. (2000). The Triple P-positive parenting program: A comparison of enhanced, standard, and self-directed behavioral family intervention for parents of children with early onset conduct problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 624–640.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Sanders, M. R., Markie-Dadds, C., & Turner, K. M. T. (2001). Practitioner’s manual for standard triple P. Milton, QLD: Families International.Google Scholar
  71. Sanders, M. R., Tully, L. A., Baade, P. D., Lynch, M. E., Heywood, A. H., Pollard, G. E., et al. (1999). A survey of parenting practices in Queensland: Implications for mental health promotion. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 9, 112–121.Google Scholar
  72. Sarafino, E. P. (1996). Principles of behavior change: Understanding behavior modification techniques. New York: John Wiley.Google Scholar
  73. Scarboro, M. E., & Forehand, R. (1975). Effects of two types of response-contingent time-out on compliance and oppositional behavior of children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 19(2), 252–264.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Schreiber, M. E. (1999). Time-outs for toddlers: Is our goal punishment or education? Young Children, 54(4), 22–25.Google Scholar
  75. Simmonds, J. (2007). Holding children in mind or holding therapy: Developing an ethical position. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 12(2), 243–251.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Singh, N. N., & Katz, R. C. (1985). On the modification of acceptability ratings for alternative child treatments. Behavior Modification, 9(3), 375–386.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Solnick, J. V., Rincover, A., & Peterson, C. R. (1977). Some determinants of the reinforcing and punishing effects of timeout. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10(3), 415–424.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Turner, H. S., & Watson, T. S. (1999). Consultant’s guide for the use of timeout in the preschool and elementary classroom. Psychology in the Schools, 36, 135–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. UNDOC. (2009). Guide to implementing family skills training programmes for drug abuse prevention. Vienna: UN.Google Scholar
  80. Vallance, D. D. (2004). Using theory and research on controlling attachments to inform the clinical assessment of pre-school children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 9(2), 227–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Webster-Stratton, C. (1981). Videotape modeling: A method of parent education. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 10(2), 93–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Webster-Stratton, C. (1990). Long-term follow-up of families with young conduct problem children: From preschool to grade school. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 19, 144–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Webster-Stratton, C. (1993). Strategies for helping early school-aged children with oppositional defiant and conduct disorders: The importance of home-school partnerships. School Psychology Review, 22, 437–457.Google Scholar
  84. Webster-Stratton, C. (1998). Preventing conduct problems in head start children: Strengthening parenting competencies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 715–730.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Hammond, M. (2004). Treating children with early-onset conduct problems: Intervention outcomes for parent, child, and teacher training. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 33(1), 105–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Wells, K. C. (1997). The death of discipline: Is the requiem premature? Aggression and Violent Behavior., 2, 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Willoughby, R. H. (1969). The effects of time-out from positive reinforcement on the operant behavior of preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 7, 299–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Willoughby, R. H. (1970). The influence of different response consequences on children’s preference for time-out. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 9(2), 133–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Yeager, C., & McLaughlin, T. F. (1994). Use of a timeout ribbon with and without consequences as procedures to improve a child’s compliance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 79(2), 945–946.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  90. Zubrick, S. R., Ward, K. A., Silburn, S. R., Lawrence, D., Williams, A. A., Blair, E., et al. (2005). Prevention of child behavior problems through universal implementation of a group behavioral family intervention. Prevention Science, 3, 1–18.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Parenting and Family Support Centre, School of PsychologyThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations