What do I do when my child refuses to go to time out?

by drlazarus on April 23, 2013

What do I do when my child refuses to go to time out?

Your child is in trouble and you’re using the time out to get them to calm down.  If they refuse their time out, they are basically getting a second offense.  You need parenting strategies to help here.  What do I do next?

If I were to be speeding in my car and a police car pulls up and puts on its lights, I have two choices. 1) I can pull over and take the consequence for speeding.  2) I can refuse to pull over and try to outrun the car (Very poor choice!)  When a kid is sent to time out, they also have a choice.  They can go to time out and work their way out of this, or they can try to refuse, creating a much larger consequence.  Remember, if you are using 1-2-3 magic, you already gave them 2 chances to not have a time out!

This behavior shows me that your child needs “practice” taking time outs.  They are not good at taking them.  As a consequence for the refusal and when they are CALM, they can practice taking 3 good time outs.  Then tell them, “Good, now you know how to do time outs.  I hope the next time your are sent to a time out, you do it this way.  Otherwise, we will need to do more practice.”

If they are small enough, you can choose to bring them to their time out or hold them in a “bear hug hold” until they are calm.  Don’t continue to engage in a power struggle with them when they are angry, telling them that if they don’t go to a time out, they will get (insert bigger and bigger consequences here).  This just will make you more angry and your child will escalate.  Instead:

  • Ignore them.
  • Don’t talk to them!
  • Don’t engage in any interaction until they go take their time out.

Again, they did not do a good time out, so when you and they are calm, they will need to work off their choice to refuse the time out.  They can practice and get better at making the choice to not have a time out in the first place.

See Time-outs for Children blog for more on how to use time outs effectively with kids, ages 2-12.

Dr. Steven Lazarus is a child psychologist in Littleton, Colorado.

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