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At What Age Are Time-outs Effective?

Time-outs, the practice of putting children in mandatory quiet times to settle down and/or contemplate errors they have made, are a common parenting technique.  Time-outs should be timed to be consistent with the age of the child in time-out.  For example, a two-year old should have a two-minute time-out, a seven-year-old should have a seven-minute time-out, etc.  Given the nature and duration of time-outs, are there ages at which time-outs are most effective?

Time-outs are most effective for one-year-olds to 12-year olds.  Time-outs prior to one year of age may not be effective due to the child’s inability to understand the time-out and why it is being used.  Time-outs beyond 12 years of age may not be effective due to the child’s ability to use time-out time for his/her own purposes (i.e., a 13-minute time-out typically seems fleeting to a 13-year-old, who can use this brief period of time to “space off”, plan an upcoming social activity, etc.)  Other disciplinary techniques such as grounding may be more appropriate for teens.

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