It's well known that small children don't understand the concept of the future or passage of time, so there is no point in applying the punishment for too long of a period.

Obviously, that mental development limitation gets resolved as children grow older.

Is there a good guideline on what length of punishment (withdrawal of privileges, or of specific items) is effective at what ages?

Examples: withdrawal of a specific toy that the child likes to play with nearly daily. Or withdrawal of permission to watch TV.

Age bands of most interest are preschool, elementary school and middle schoold

  • 1
    Not sure if this is too opinion-based, since some will vehemently argue against punishment for young children at any age. Also, is there any age in particular, or is this more of a general question for future reference? (Not sure about the broadness)
    – Noah
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 17:48
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    I have heard that for time-outs, a good way to determine length is one minute for every year of age (2 year old gets 2 minutes, 5 year old gets 5 minutes). For punishments like withdrawal of privileges/items, there are diminishing returns for the effect. I'd suggest capping at 2 weeks, preferably go for only 1 week at the high end (shorter periods are more likely to be appropriate depending on the situation).
    – Doc
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 18:06
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    @Noah - if someone wants to argue against withdrawal of privileges being a valid approach, the problem is that they are on the wrong site for their soapboxing, not that the question is opinion based. I think this was addressed on Meta.
    – user3143
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 18:13
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    While not the most official source, I agree with the general rules of thumb stated here
    – Doc
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 18:25
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    As an aside, one of my kids insisted his Grandpa have a time out after inadvertently swearing once. Grandpa was delighted with his 64 minute peace and quiet on the naughty step reading a paper :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 7:11

2 Answers 2


One minute per age of the child.

A five year old child gets a five minute (or less) time out. A fourteen year old child has a fifteen minute withdrawal of privileges.

Some people think that this is much too short for the older child, but research shows that a shorter duration for removal of privileges is more effective than a longer duration.

It's really important to combine punishment with rehabilitation amd moving forward. It's really important not to let punishment be guided by the anger caused.

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    I'll accept if you link me some sources pls
    – user3143
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 15:08
  • I largely agree with Dan, though i'd quibble that the short isn't always true - more on a child by child basis, at least with my childhood and siblings as examples [short was fine for me, but for my brother he was happy to exchange short privilege loss for misbehavior]. Absolutely agree with the last sentence.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 15:48
  • Also Dan, since my answer isn't very different from yours and yours was first, if you'd like to incorporate the references from mine (or your own references) i'd be happy to delete it.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 15:49

There isn't one list of these things, because it isn't a settled issue: different strategies work to more or less extent, in particular per child.

One minute per year of age is a common length for timeouts; 123 Magic suggests that, for example (there isn't an online direct source, but any search for 123 Magic will come up with a similar summary such as this example.)

Dr. Phil, for all of his issues, does have a good list of age-appropriate punishments not listing lengths, but just the kind of punishment that is effective at different ages. It's largely in line with what I've learned elsewhere.

To a large extent, it reflects both the ability to understand reason from children and the likelihood of their misbehavior being 'in control' or 'out of control' behavior and the necessity to use different tactics for the two: ie, an 'out of control' child cannot be reasoned with because he/she isn't in control and thus able to take the necessary action even if he/she agrees with you. Redirection or timeout will help there. Withdrawing privileges only limitedly works, and it only works because they begin to have a general dislike of punishment which sometimes will 'shock' them back into control; hence, the length of withdrawal should be fairly short [as it's not really the withdrawal that matters, it's the reaction].

On the other hand, a child who is 'in control' but misbehaving generally knows they shouldn't be doing whatever they're doing, and are making a conscious decision to do it. This is where it makes more sense to withdraw privileges in a meaningful fashion - as the child can make a rational choice, "I'm okay with losing my TV time for two days if it means I can avoid cleaning my room". Here some children will react much better to short privilege withdrawal and some will react better to longer - in particular depending on how much of a strategic thinker your child is. This only really applies to older children, at least grade school age I'd guess (though mine aren't that old yet).

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