I have a two and a half year old daughter. Recently she's been acting up generally, and ignoring timeouts by getting up and walking away.

I would pick her up and plant her down again, but I know from experience that she'll see that as a game.

(The behavior is intermittent - she doesn't do this every time she has a time out.) What should I do?

  • Do you use an clock/timer to indicate when the timeout is over? Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 8:12
  • How long of a timeout are you giving her? You may need to shorten the timeout. A general rule of thumb is one minute per year - so your daughter would be best off with only two minutes of timeout.
    – Doc
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 17:01

8 Answers 8


Put the child back in timeout and reset the time. Without exception. Like most other parenting duties this is all about consistency.

Ignore laughing or other such - the child is trying that behavior out to elicit a reaction from you. Stay calm and firm. Don't interact beyond enforcement (that downtime's the point of the time-out, and they may be trying to pass the time in a more entertaining manner with you!).

At that age, timeouts don't work unsupervised, you have to be right there. It can be a hassle, but that's parenting.

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    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
    – jwg
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 9:14
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    @jwg so training is impossible, you say? Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 13:08
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    Well, to be fair, most parents I know are pretty crazy sometimes...
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 13:56
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    I didn't respond to that comment because I assumed it was a joke; anyone unaware of the value of consistent repetition is unlikely to be a good parent (or to be good at their job, or to go work out at a gym, or to be well educated).
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 15:07
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    I took it as a joke, as well - sort of - and hear what you are saying about consistency. as with everything, though, it depends on the child. I remember one terrible day when my oldest son was three. We spent over an hour one day with me putting him in the time out chair, him getting up and running away, me putting him back and resetting the timer. Over and over again for an hour. We were both in tears by the end, and I don't think it was particularly effective. Time outs didn't go much better after that day either. I think I would have done better to find a different solution.
    – michelle
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 21:34

I have a son the same age, and I can tell you that timeouts are pretty hard at that age. Many don't recommend timeouts until 3, for several reasons - this included.

However, we have managed to get our son (after nine months of effort!) to do time outs fairly effectively.

First off, we try to make sure to not have them in anger or to make them punishments. This might be obvious - but worth stating. Time outs are emotionless, just temporary breaks while you and the child cool off - both of you. As such, one useful thing to do particularly at this age is to yourself take the timeout. Go somewhere away from the child - not so far that she's unsafe of course, but put some barrier between the two of you.

Second, we give our son a book during his time outs. One we choose - and if he's biting, for example, he's getting the "Biting Hurts!" book - but still, a book. Time out is to distract him from his course of misbehavior and reset him to normal - sitting down with a book is good for that.

We put him in a calm and quiet part of the house - on his bed, on the landing of the stairs before the gate, etc. - sit him down with the book, and set a timer, the same one we use for non-time-out things.

If he gets up, and moves more than a reasonable amount, then the time out starts over and we re-place him there. This goes three times. If it happens more than three times, he goes into the high chair for the timeout (a safe highchair, as he/she may well rock it or try to get out - not against a wall for sure). This actually works pretty well, as he's used to being in the high chair in the relatively calm environment of lunch. We also found that usually, that's not needed - simply sitting down with the book is usually enough. We don't even necessarily take away toys, if they're not related to the misbehavior.

Finally, be prepared to have a few (dozen) bad experiences - and then one good one. Praise the good one. It takes time and effort, but it will eventually work - even if it seems like a game for a while. The game may well work, in and of itself - the point, after all, is to get your child to redirect from the misbehavior to something else. So what if that something else is a sit down/stand up game? Be consistent, but don't focus too much on exactly the form of what's happening. If it works to get her to stop misbehaving, then that's a plus.

  • +1 for timeout is not a punishment. Easy to forget this.
    – deworde
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 10:51

Stop using timeouts, which obviously aren't working for you or your daughter, and which have known disadvantages regardless. Instead, try alternative techniques until you find one that works for both of you.


Give your kid a hug instead!

From a child's point of view, time-out is definitely experienced as punishment... Children under the age of seven simply do not have the capability to process words in the same way that adults do. Concrete experience and perceptions of reality impact more strongly than language. Being isolated and ignored is interpreted as "Nobody wants to be with me right now. Therefore I must be bad and unlovable," and no loving words, however well intended, can override this feeling of rejection.

The use of time-out leads to a host of hidden problems. For one, when we enforce a time-out for children who are crying or raging, they get the message that we do not want to be around them when they are upset. Certain that we will not listen, they may soon stop bringing their problems to us.

Furthermore, such children may learn to suppress their feelings, especially if we insist on time-out in silence. Have we forgotten that crying and raging are healthy tension-release mechanisms that help relieve sadness and frustration? ...

An additional problem is that the use of time-out does not address the underlying cause of the "inappropriate behavior." ... Most undesirable behavior can be explained by one of three factors: the child is attempting to fulfill a legitimate need, the child lacks information or is too young to understand, or the child is feeling upset (frustrated, sad, scared, confused, jealous, or insecure). When we try to change a behavior without addressing these feelings and needs, we do not help our children very much at all. Why? Because the underlying problem will still be there. Teaching children to conform to our wishes does not resolve the deeper issues.

Parents have been led to believe that children will use time-out to think about what they did and regain some modicum of self-control. In reality, when children act in inappropriate, aggressive, or obnoxious ways, they are often harboring such strong pent-up feelings that they are unable to think clearly about their actions. Far more helpful than isolation is an attentive listener who can encourage the expression of honest feelings...

Holding children who hit or bite is much more effective than isolating them. Firm but loving holding creates safety and warmth while protecting other children from getting hurt. It also invites the expression of genuine feelings (through crying and raging) while reassuring the child of the indestructible parent-child bond. It is paradoxical, yet true: children are most in need of loving attention when they act least deserving of it. Telling a violent child to sit quietly rarely accomplishes anything constructive and only further contributes to the child's pent-up anger and feelings of alienation.

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    would you be kind to point out what "alternative techniques" are. I guess that's why we all are here to share some experience and/or knowledge.
    – Anup Shah
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 21:57
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    See the references linked. For clarity, I've updated my answer to include a quote from one of them.
    – user606
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 12:25
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    @sampablokuper Thank you, that's a huge improvement. I've changed my -1 to a +1.
    – user420
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 14:54
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    This is a good explanation. I don't agree as a general rule - time outs clearly work for my child as a cool down period - but certainly worth considering for children for whom time outs do not work.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 17:58
  • Let's all just calm down, and remember that comments are not for discussion, and also that we need to keep it friendly here.
    – user420
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 0:08

Remember that Time-Out is not a Punishment. if you believe that then make sure your behavior during/after time-out is also giving same impression to your child.

As you said if she is not doing every time, that means she knows that you have given her time out and in certain occasions she feels it is not valid. may be she has seen you doing the similar thing in house. By taking some time-out yourself check that you are giving her time-out for right reasons.

w/o some examples when she takes her time-out seriously and when not I can say following;

If you feels that she is enjoying making fun of time-out try to calm down yourself first and find patterns in occasions when she does it and that may give hint. this will take time.

Meanwhile change rule a bit. Do the time out together. during time-out do some activity she likes to gather and see if that changes her behavior.


Maybe you could try alternatives to time-out. I'm the parent of a toddler and I'm having a hard time figuring out what I would put my child in time-out for at this age. Most things she does that are "wrong" (against the rules) are also developmentally appropriate, i.e. she is curious or frustrated or whatever, not disobedient.

Some strategies that work for us:

  • Watch her and keep interfering with the "no" activity. For example, if she tries to climb on something she shouldn't, I stop her, then watch. If she tries again, I say no again, and stop her. Pretty soon she gives up. Yes, this takes time, but it is also taking time to keep returning your daughter to time-out.

  • Put the toy (or whatever it is) in time-out. My daughter was given a toy that is a bit too advanced for her; she gets very frustrated trying to play with it. So we put the toy in time-out to give her a break.

  • Natural consequences. If she deliberately throws her food on the floor to be "funny," then she doesn't get more food, at least not right away. If she empties her laundry hamper, she has to help put the laundry back.

  • Corral her in a time-out area. We put up a baby gate and confine her to a place where she can be observed, even play with toys, but she can't keep doing the unwanted behavior. You'd think that she'd be perfectly happy to be stuck in a room with her toys, but she knows that she is being kept from elsewhere and she doesn't like it.

  • When there's a waiting period, we try to connect it to something she can observe, e.g., "When the clock says 'gong,' you can do X."

I try to reserve the biggest consequences for the most dangerous activities (chewing on electrical cord, unscrewing furniture parts and putting them in her mouth, wandering too near a hot grill or the water's edge), and I give her as few opportunities as possible to do anything dangerous. That way, when she hears a thunderous NO!!! and is yanked away from something, she knows it is exceptionally serious.

Kids are endlessly interesting. As soon as you figure out how to manage the time-out issue, something else will come up. :)


Generally a timeout is due to an action or behavior the child is exhibiting.

Leaving the timeout is an act of disobedience, often a different misbehavior than the one that brought them into timeout. At this time it appears you don't have a consequence for leaving the timeout. While there may be other ways to handle the issue, one way is to define the consequence of leaving the time-out.

  • Many parents choose to extend the timeout. "You will be in time-out for at least 3 minutes. If you get up without permission, you will be there for another three minutes."

  • Some choose a different consequence. "Hitting your sibling results in a timeout so you can calm yourself in a place well away from the issue that causing anger. Leaving the time-out before you are calm will result in [another consequence - sent to bed, no dessert, an additional household chore, etc]"

  • Others use escalation. "If you leave time-out on the stairs, you'll be sent for a longer time-out in bed.'

It may be helpful for some children to have an hourglass or timer that they can see which is easy to set and reset. Some have little concept of "3 minutes" and so the time may as well be forever, or for a few seconds in their mind. Being able to focus on the timer may help them stay put, knowing that it will eventually end.

Also consider the location of the timeout. If it's in a place that provides many distractions or attractions, they may have a very hard time resisting the temptation to get up. If you are trying to teach them something specific about sitting still even while tempted, then that may be appropriate, but if you aren't then a timeout location that is safe and has fewer distractions or attractions may help them obey your timeout rules.

Consistency is key. Don't use timeout for things of little or no consequence, or for your personal convenience. "I'm making dinner, so go to timeout until I'm done" isn't going to benefit either of you. If you use a timeout for every little thing they do wrong, what will you use when they do something that requires more significant action? If you use it for your personal convenience, it will lose meaning as a teaching tool. Keep in mind that timeouts aren't as useful once your children pass a certain development age, so if you do use them, make them useful and effective.

Lastly, make sure you and your child understand the point of a timeout. Is it a punishment? Is it meant to help them reform themselves (calm down, think through a problem, etc)? Is it to remove them from a volatile situation you know they won't be able to handle? This should be an opportunity for them to feel your love and desire for their happiness, even in their current difficulty. Use it to teach them, and help them understand why it's important for them to manage their actions or reactions carefully. Don't use it to stop petty issues, or just to get them out of your hair.

I've known some to use it as a method to control their own anger at their children's actions, giving themselves time and space to cool off prior to dealing with the child. if that's the case for you consider seeking assistance. This is a good first step, but it's only the first of many steps you may need to take to deal with your own anger issues. Again, eventually you will not be able to place them in a timeout, but if you find your anger flares very quickly you may have a very unhappy relationship with your child during their teenage years.

  • I can attest for putting them somewhere with as few distractions as possible. At least not in the room where someone else is watching TV. It's an invitation for sneaking a peek and starting to rotate their body. Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 8:46
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    "Leaving the timeout is an act of disobedience" Really? Your main goal is to make your child obedient? Respectful, that's a different thing, but I'd never want to make my child obedient. Respect is gained by leading through example, not by force and punishment. Commented May 14, 2014 at 22:15
  • @TomášKafka "Obey: to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do" You might decide your children do not need to obey your rules, or the laws of your society. Other parents may disagree with you and, believing that obedience is a good trait, this answer may be helpful to them. I hope you will respect their decision to raise obedient children without the implication that they are bad parents for choosing to encourage this trait.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 15:40
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    @AdamDavis, you haven't given a reason why such a belief deserves respect.
    – user606
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 22:23
  • @AdamDavis, that's a significantly different question. I remarked about having respect for beliefs. Your question asks about having respect for people.
    – user606
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 23:18

Well, firstly it's your kid and you should raise her/him however you want to, but do keep in mind that your kid can have a negative effect on other peoples kids depending on how you raise her. And, how you raise her can have a negative effect on her when she grows up as well...

Being a parent isn't all about spoiling your kid and giving her "love" 24/7, it's about teaching her things and discipline is one of those things.

The moment she disobeys you should make it clear that you aren't playing a game and right there and then take a toy from her and show her you mean business, you could even hold back on the sweets, anything that would "sting".

My advice is you do what you need to do to raise a good kid which would listen to you if you told her to do something and to raise her to not become a bully and make her strong enough to stand up to bullies.


You could try some velcro. Some on the chair, some on the bottom of the kids diaper.

Or just reprimand the child for getting up. The purpose of timeout is punishment. Most kids are not going to just sit there happily.

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    Time out is not primarily a punishment; it is a temporary break for the child to 'reset' the child to normal behavior from being overly stimulated. It is generally considered distinct from punishments such as sending a child to his or her room.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 1:27
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    This is just a bad idea in general Commented Apr 22, 2014 at 3:40
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    This is such a bad idea, it's crossed over to becoming absurdly funny. If anyone wonders why, this a step away from putting them into a straight-jacket into a little padded room (for their own safety of course :p). Something I've occasionally joked about needing for our two anklebiters. Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 8:49

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