Time-out certainly sounds like a brilliant fix: A child spends a few minutes sitting alone, and emerges calm and cooperative. Parents often admit that it simply doesn’t work—because their kid fights going to the time-out, cries and calls out instead of sitting quietly, or gets even more worked up afterward.

Here are some Alternatives to Time-Out

1. Identify and reinforce positive opposite behaviours, such as playing gently and speaking kindly, try saying, “Wow, you are playing so nicely with your toys” or giving your child stars or stickers.

2. Use when-then statements. Instead of telling your child, “We can stay at the playground for five more minutes, but only if you put your shoes back on,” you can motivate her to cooperate by saying, “When you put your shoes back on, then we can stay at the playground for five more minutes.”

3. Strike when the iron is cold. After everyone has had a chance to cool down, you can explain, “We don’t throw toys because throwing toys is dangerous.”

The New and Improved Time-Out Technique

1. If you ask parents how they use time-outs, you’ll probably hear a wide variety of answers, ranging from having a naughty chair to keeping kids in their room.

Step 1: Give one clear warning. The best study found that a single non-repetitive warning before every time-out can reduce the number of time-outs needed by 74%. If your child doesn’t start cooperating within five seconds, proceed with the time-out.

Step 2: Announce a time-out. You might wait until your child is relatively calm, but briefly reiterate what he did wrong (“No hitting. Time-out.”), and escort him to a naughty chair. (Many experts advise against sending your child to his room, because he’ll have toys, books, and other fun things there.) Resist the urge to lecture him. It’s okay to offer an explanation before the time-out or after it, but not during it. If you say things like, “I’ve told you about this a thousand times,” “Now you are paying the price,” or “I hope you are thinking about what you did,” you are giving your child attention rather than removing it—and any attention, even negative attention, can act as a reward rather than a consequence.

Step 3: Start the clock. Many parents use the “one minute for every year of a child’s age” rule. However, recent research, shows that even brief time-outs of 1-3 minutes are effective, at least for children ages 3 to 5. Setting the clock for longer may make it harder to get your child to sit in a time-out in the future.

Step 4: Make it boring. During the time-out, do not talk to your child or make eye contact. Staying silent may require some practice, especially if your child says things like, “You are the worst mum in the world!” or asks questions like, “Why are you doing this to me?” and “Can I have a glass of water?” No matter what your child says or asks during the time-out, ignore it.

Step 5: When the timer goes off, call an end to the time-out. It doesn’t matter if your child is still fidgety, sassy, or crying. Once the timer goes off, the time-out is over. How will you know if time-outs are working? If you start following these steps, within 1-3 weeks you should need to employ them less and less often.

What If My Child Refuses to Go to Time-Out?

Present a choice. He can cooperate or lose a privilege, such as screen time. If he chooses not to have a time-out, say, “Okay, then it’s no TV,” and walk away.

Offer time off for good behaviour. You might say, “Time-out is normally 3 minutes, but if you go now and sit quietly, it will be two.”

Take it yourself. If your child is safe being unsupervised (or another adult is there), go to your own room. Or say, “I will not talk to you for three minutes because you hit your brother.”

Does "Time Out" work for you? Maybe you have some alternatives that work better? Let us know!