Teaching Time-Out to a 2-Year-Old

In the beginning it’s bewildering to imagine how your 2-year-old could be placed in a time-out area and stay there. But it IS possible! The trick is to teach your child to go to time-out when they don’t actually need it.  Before you ever start using time-out as a discipline strategy, try the following steps to teach your child what time-out is all about:

1. Show them the time-out area (a stair or mat works well) and tell them what it’s called. Ask them to sit on it, then clap and cheer for them when they do.  Do this a few times, praising them each time for listening.

2. The next step is getting your child to stay in the time-out area until YOU tell them to leave.  Ask them to sit in time-out again and say “This time I want you to stay there until I tell you to get up!”  Let them sit for a few seconds before telling them to get up, then clap and cheer for them for doing a good job listening. Try this a few more times, having them sit a little longer each time. It’s better to start short and gradually increase the time, rather than trying to go too long and having your child get up before you tell them to. If they start leaving the time-out area before you tell them to, say “No, sit down and wait until I tell you!”  Making it a fun game helps your child learn exactly what to do and teaches them to listen to you and follow your directions.

3. Once your child understands how it works, practice going to and staying in time-out every day for a week. You are still teaching them when they are NOT in need of a time-out. The most important thing is for your child to stay in time-out until you ask them to get up. Don’t worry as much about getting them to stay there a long time. If you can, try walking out of sight for a few seconds while they sit in the time-out area and wait for you to come back and tell them to get up and go play.

When your child is able to do this, you are ready to start using time-out as a discipline strategy to deal with challenging behavior! Time-out is especially useful for dealing with physical aggression and non-compliance. For more information, check out this article on using time-out effectively with your child.  Please comment and share your great time-out tricks with us!

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2 comments


  1. When my first child was one, I started to put her in time out in her pack and play because she couldn’t escape. I can’t say that it did a world of good exactly, but it got me in the habit of removing her from situations so she would start to notice cause and effect. Then we used the Super Nanny’s naughty mat idea. That worked very well with my daughter, but my son would move the mat with him and declare that he was still on the mat in his new location. Sometimes the best time outs I’ve given are the ones I give to myself! :)

  2. They can be so clever in their exasperating ways! Time outs for mom are definitely some of the most effective. Plus, we KNOW we’ll stay put right?! Thanks for the comment Lynn!

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