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A preschool age boy smirking at a volunteer who is giving him a time out.
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Children’s Ministry Discipline: Timeouts (Yay or Nay?)

Timeouts: Yay or Nay? Could the most-used discipline technique be detrimental to kids?

Research is questioning the repeated use of the timeout, as it may affect the physical structure of the brain.

What the Experts Think

“A timeout that’s used to isolate a child from the group isn’t very effective, and it can cause safety and emotional concerns. Here’s a better discipline tool: Provide a place for the child to regroup feelings and have some self-reflection time, while still being close to his or her peers. However, if the child is a possible harm to others, then a timeout can be necessary for the safety of your group, and to help the child compose his or her feelings. ”

-Sheila Halasz, preschool consultant and founder of Power of Preschoolers in Crystal Lake, Illinois

“As a parent, timeouts are necessary to provide a healthy consequence. As a leader at church, timeouts aren’t always the best way to deal with problems.  It helps to define what a timeout is: At home, a timeout separates the child from what he wants to do, allowing the child to learn from mistakes. Using this same technique in children’s ministry will only serve to alienate the child and separate them from the group—in a place where we want everyone to feel welcome. I believe in redefining timeouts. Instead of sending a child to the corner to sit in a chair, have an adult take the child to another part of the room and give more one-on-one attention. That gives the rest of the children a better way to continue, while at the same time giving our problem behavior a more direct interaction with a leader.”

-Jonathan Cliff, advocate for family and church partnership in Athens, Georgia

“Timeouts are okay, as long as you have boundaries. Use the age rule when it comes to the amount of a time a timeout lasts; so if the child is three, the timeout lasts for three minutes or if the child is five, then the timeout can last for up to five minutes. Always follow-up with the child to talk about the reason he or she needed a timeout, and help the child come up with a plan to make different choices.”

-Jessica Daugherty, director of Lititz Christian Early Learning Center in Lititz, Pennsylvania

How to Use Timeout

The timeout chair is a useful tool in preschool classrooms if used correctly. But it isn’t the epitome of discipline techniques that it’s sometimes thought to be. If you choose to use this technique, here are practical tips to make it work well.

  • Think of the “chair” as a way to help children learn self-discipline. Help children understand that when they’re in a bad mood or angry, they need to get away from other people to collect their thoughts and emotions.
  • Don’t leave a child in timeout for longer than the duration of his attention span. That means one minute in timeout for each year of age. Otherwise, the child will forget why he’s even in the chair!
  • Keep a special chair in a predetermined corner of your room. This helps the children know where to go when you send them to timeout.
  • Apply the same questions and standards to each session. Post these questions above the chair: “What rule did you disobey?” and “What could you have done differently?”
  • Reaffirm that the child is loved and accepted. After focusing on the child’s behavior, finish her timeout by saying, “I love you and so does God!”

Looking for more teaching tips? Check out these ideas!

5 thoughts on “Children’s Ministry Discipline: Timeouts (Yay or Nay?)

  1. I did some research on time out and I have come to believe it was always meant to be aa way for children to self calm and not as a consequence. I think if a child is acting out in children’s ministry taking the time to talk out the issue in a quiet place even if it is still in the classroom can often reset the environment.

    • Children's Ministry Magazine

      Thank you for the comment Barbara! Giving a child a chance to calm down works wonders sometimes.

  2. But what if the behavior is itself attention seeking? Many times I have children do something “bad” specifically to get one on on attention.

    I feel that separation is good and that it teaches children that they have a responsibility for personal behavior that if they do not keep to they can’t be part of the group.

    • Scott Firestone

      This is definitely a sticky issue since every church environment is different, due to the number of volunteers, the size of the class, and so forth. And as we see here, even differences in how we view the role of time-outs. Thanks for the comment, Nik!

  3. The key is to discipline with dignity. If your time-out achieves alienation and humiliation then you have failed. If you have asked a child to wait for you, in a spot aside from the group, and you attend to the child in a gentle but neutral manner, at eye level. You have created the opportunity to be heard. If you listen first, and use language of inquiry rather than blame, the child is led to describe his/her own behaviour to you and take responsibility for it, rather than you presenting their misbehaviours and shaming them into a response.

    This kind of discussion cannot happen successfully in the presence of an audience. An audience leads to distraction and shifts the ground from neutral inquiry to power and performance. So ‘time out’ is only successfully if it is used promptly, in a genuine manner of inquiry and responsibility, and provides enough privacy for dignity.

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