Quiet time and time-out: what are they?
Quiet time and time-out are strategies for managing challenging child behaviour.
Both quiet time and time-out involve not giving children attention for a short period of time and removing children from interesting activities.
Quiet time and time-out can guide children towards better behaviour and away from behaviour like being aggressive or repeatedly refusing to follow instructions. That’s because children quickly learn about what’s unacceptable when they miss out on your attention.
Quiet time and time-out also give children quiet environments where they can calm down.
A close and loving relationship with you is key to guiding your child towards positive behaviour. It’s also important to give your child plenty of positive attention when they’re doing the right thing – for example, plenty of hugs, smiles, praise and encouragement.
Quiet time and time-out: what’s the difference?
Quiet time is when you remove your child from the activity where the challenging behaviour happened, but not the place. You stay with your child away from the activity, without giving your child attention.
For example, if you’re at home, you might ask your child to come and sit near you, away from toys or other children. This gives your child a break from other people or activities, as well as a short consequence for their behaviour.
Quiet time works well outside your home too. For example, if you’re at the park and your child hits another child, you might ask your child to sit under a tree for a few minutes while you stand nearby. This gives your child a consequence for hitting and the chance to calm down away from other people.
This is when your child goes to a time-out area away from the people and place where the challenging behaviour happened. It’s usually a safe and boring place without toys or games. For example, it could be a spare room or hallway.
You might choose to give your child time-out for unacceptable behaviour like hitting or repeatedly not following instructions.
Before using time-out or quiet time for the first time
It’s a good idea to let your child know what to expect from time-out or quiet time. It’s best to explain at a time when you and your child are both calm and relaxed:
- Explain what quiet time or time-out is, where it will happen and what behaviour will lead to it. For example, ‘Time-out is when you sit calmly and quietly on the bottom step for 3 minutes. Hitting people gets a time-out’.
- Have a playful rehearsal before using quiet time or time-out. For example, you could put your partner or a toy into time-out.
- Give your child strategies for calming down while they’re in quiet time or time-out – for example, breathing exercises.
How to do quiet time and time-out
Follow these steps when the challenging behaviour happens:
- Give your child a chance to change their behaviour by providing a clear, calm instruction. For example, ‘Peri, stop throwing the blocks. Please keep the blocks on the floor’.
- Follow through on quiet time or time-out. For example, ‘Peri, you’re still throwing the blocks. Now you need to go into time-out. You stay quietly in time-out for 3 minutes. I’ll get you when time-out is finished’.
- Avoid giving your child attention during quiet time or time-out. For example, avoid talking to or looking at them.
- Once your child has been quiet and calm for the set period, let them know that quiet time or time-out is over. If your child went to time-out for not following instructions, repeat the instruction after time-out is over. Otherwise, move on to something else. For example, ask ‘What do you want to play with now?’ Avoid reminding your child of what they did wrong. For example, it’s best not to say something like ‘No more hitting your sister’.
- Look for the first opportunity to praise your child for the right behaviour. For example, ‘I love the way you’re keeping the blocks on the table now. Thanks for listening to me’.
Quiet time and time-out work well when you usually have plenty of warm and positive interactions with your child. If your child’s behaviour or other things in your life are affecting your interactions with your child or you’re struggling with your child’s behaviour, ask for help. Ask your GP or child and family health nurse for advice and a referral to a counsellor or other professional.
Making quiet time and time-out work for you: tips
Keep quiet time and time-out short
Aim for 2-3 minutes. Quiet time or time-out begins when your child is quiet. If your child is yelling or calling out, start timing once they’re quiet. And quiet time or time-out ends when your child has been calm and quiet for 2-3 minutes.
If you stay calm, your child is more likely to stay calm too. If you feel upset or stressed, try pausing and taking a few deep breaths before you respond to your child’s behaviour.
Focus on family rules
It’s good to talk about how your child’s behaviour has broken a family rule. For example, ‘Hitting people is not OK in our family. You need to go into time-out now’. This works better than telling your child that they have been ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’.
Make sure quiet time and time-out aren’t rewards
Time-out and quiet time won’t help with challenging behaviour if your child gets a lot of attention during quiet time or time-out or they get a chance to play games or do fun things. Make sure time out is boring, without attention, games or toys.
Likewise, these strategies won’t work if your child can use them to get out of things they don’t want to do.
Quiet time and time-out work best when your child knows what to expect. So make sure always to follow through on challenging behaviour. If your child thinks they might be able avoid quiet time or time-out or leave before they’ve calmed down, these strategies become much less powerful.
If you have a partner, it’s important that you both use quiet time or time-out the same way for the same behaviour. You could also speak to your child’s educators and carers and plan to use quiet time or time-out the same way.
It’s common for children to behave in challenging ways when they’re ill or going through certain developmental stages, or when there are big changes in your family life. In situations like these, it might be worth waiting to see whether your child’s behaviour changes when the situation changes. If it doesn’t, you could try quiet time or time-out. Either way it’s always a good idea to spend some time calmly talking with your child about their feelings.
Challenging behaviour during or after quiet time or time-out
Your child might behave in challenging ways during or after you use quiet time or time-out, especially if you’re using this strategy for the first time. If this happens, try to stay calm and stick with it. Once your child realises that certain behaviour always gets time-out, they’ll generally calm down much more quickly.
In the meantime, here are things to try:
- If your child argues or yells, try not to respond and start timing once your child is calm.
- If your child keeps leaving time-out, calmly and gently take them back to the time-out area until they stay there quietly. You might need to sit quietly nearby to make sure your child stays.
- If your child still doesn’t follow the original instruction when they come out of quiet time or time-out, they’ll need to go back to time-out.
Keeping track of time-out or quiet time can help you see whether the strategy is working for you and your child. Write down on a calendar how often and for how long your child goes into time-out or quiet time. If you see a reduction after a couple of weeks, you’ll know these strategies are working. If you feel that the strategy isn’t helping with your child’s behaviour, talk to your GP or child and family health nurse.
Quiet time and time-out for children with developmental concerns, disability or autism
Quite time or time-out can help you guide autistic children or children with developmental delays away from challenging behaviour. These strategies can also help children calm down.
But quiet time and time-out aren’t recommended for autistic children who:
- use self-injuring behaviour, because you might not be able to see or stop children who are hurting themselves in time-out
- use challenging behaviours to avoid interaction with others, get out of situations they don’t like, or avoid tasks they don’t want to do.
If this sounds like your child, talk with your child’s GP or therapist about other ways to manage your child’s behaviour.