I recently chatted with some mama pals about time-outs. We actually have yet to use them, given that our 2-year old hasn’t been prone to aggression (her exploration into hitting was brief), and usually can be redirected by distraction. However, my friends’ kids are 4-5 months older than Laurel, so it’s certainly possible that time-outs will become necessary in the future. It seemed like a good time to do a little research.
A popular misconception is that time-outs are a form of punishment; in fact, time-outs are more effective when they are used to shape behavior instead of punish. When used as punishment, time-outs are negative, keep the anger percolating, and do nothing to turn the tide of the misbehavior. In contrast, when a time-out is used to break the misbehavior, it offers a short window during which both child and parent can change up the mojo, reflect, and cool off. BabyCenter offers an article describing time-out parameters and strategies; Dr. Sears offers a helpful set of 10 tips, including strategies on how to prepare children for time-outs, time-out length (about 1 minute per year of age; for older children you can tailor time to fit the crime, as it were), and time-out location (typically a boring, neutral place).