‘Time-Outs’ Effective for Deterring Behavior Problems Preschoolers

HealthDay News — Experts speaking at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in Toronto offered evidence in support of time-outs — and a range of other parenting tactics.

In one study, Robert Larzelere, PhD, a professor of human development and family science at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and colleagues conducted a series of interviews with 102 mothers whose children ranged in age from 17 months to almost 3 years at the outset.

Overall, the researchers found that different tactics seemed to work for different behavior issues. And immediate solutions often differed from long-term ones.

When children were defiant or hitting, mothers often got immediate results when they used time-out or took something away from the child. Those moves were not effective, though, when children were simply whining or trying to get their way, the researchers found.

For those milder issues, “reasoning” seemed to do the trick in the short term. And in the long run, reasoning did seem to help deter children from more troublesome behaviors, such as defiance and aggression.

It didn’t work immediately, like time-outs did, but over the next 16 months, mothers who regularly reasoned with their child saw improvements in their behavior. The key, Larzelere told HealthDay, seemed to be “moderate” use of punishments like time-outs.

Other research presented at the meeting emphasized the importance of being consistent. Time-outs don’t work if parents brandish them randomly, according to researcher Ennio Cipani, PhD, a professor at the National University in La Jolla, Calif. Instead, parents should decide what types of behavior will warrant a time-out — hitting, for example — and then be consistent with it.


  1. Larzelere R et al. Abstract #1295. “Children Need Positive Parenting and Timeout — A Rejoinder to the New Book No-Drama Discipline.” Presented at: American Psychological Association 2015 Meeting; Aug. 6-9, 2015; Toronto, Canada.