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1-2-3 Timeout

Recommended by Dr. Morgan as an effective alternative to spanking and other traditional forms of discipline.  It is for the purpose of extinguishing undesirable behaviors, not as a means of punishing.

 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Time-out is an educational (mainly parenting) technique. In brief, the idea is to isolate the child for a limited period of time to discouraging inappropriate behavior. It is also a time for parents to calm down.  Done correctly, the process works like magic.

Applying the technique

The technique is recommended for toddlers and up. For an older child, the parent is advised to explain what kind of misbehavior will result in a time-out and also write down those rules. When implementing the time-out, no arguing should be allowed -- that may work counter to the idea behind the time-out, which is to allow the child to calm down. Time-outs are not recommended for frequent use (if it works, improved behavior should make it less necessary), but since they are considered a mild form of discipline they are not always used as a last resort.

Counting to Three

One form of this is counting to three as a way to get children to listen to parents the first time.  When a child is doing something wrong you say, "That's One". (Say nothing else. Don’t scold or explain). Then wait five seconds.  If they are still doing the unacceptable behavior, say, "That's Two". Wait five more seconds and then say "That's Three, Take Five" or "That's Three, Time Out". Then you put them in time out.
Time out can be their room, a naughty chair or another spot you have designated for this purpose. They stay there for five minutes, or less if they are under 5 years old. When their time is up and they have calmed down they can come out of the time out area.
The following guidelines are usually given for time-outs:

  1. Decide what type of behavior warrants a time-out (such as fighting, arguing or throwing tantrums), and try to enforce this fairly and consistently. All adults involved with the child should follow similar guidelines when using a time-out.
  2. Designate a corner (hence the common term corner time) or similar space where the child is to stand or sit during time-outs. Never use their bed.
  3. Use an age appropriate time length for the time-out. For a short time-out, approximately one minute per year of age is reasonable; that time may be doubled if necessary if the child pushes their limits during the time-out.
  4. Have an incentive for completing the time-out without arguing. This may for instance be a loss of a privilege until the time-out has been completed.
  5. The time-out should always have verbal warnings before the discipline to allow the child to make appropriate choices. If their bad behavior continues, after “That’s three” you could state the reason for the time-out as they are being escorted to the “penalty box.”  Even one-year olds understand when they have reached their parental limit, but the explanations should be age appropriate.
  6. Afterwards both the parent and the child should try to leave the incident behind.

Another outline, which is better suited to the classroom:

  1. Announce the guidelines to the children periodically. Explain what a timeout is, and demonstrate how it begins and ends.
  2. When a child misbehaves, approach it saying, "Time out for X" (where X is the forbidden act, e.g., teasing).
  3. Send or bring the child to the time-out place. (Within earshot of the teacher is best.)
  4. When time's up, go over to the child and say, "Why did you have time-out?" The ideal answer is, "For X" (e.g., "Because I teased Sally.") If they don't seem to know why they got time out, remind them (briefly).
  5. After they are let out of the area, they are to apologize to the victim if there is one.

While some proponents of time-outs insist on silence and stillness from the child during the time-out, others insist that the time-out should allow the child to get anger and frustration out of their system.
As discipline means to teach, no disciplinary technique should be used without the child understanding why the behavior was unacceptable and what behavior is expected.


  • This time-out should not be confused with a sport time-out during a game.
  • Excellent tool for time-outs are Time-Out Animals that have timers built right in their tummies. They are great for Time-Outs and Time's Up.... 15 minutes until we have to leave, 15 minutes to get dressed, 15 more minutes on your Gameboy, etc. These can be found at

Best source: Thomas Phelan’s “1-2-3 Magic” (books, CDs, DVDs, or VHS).