Temper tantrums and timeouts

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography, Unsplash


Children have tantrums for many reasons. Some are demands for attention, others are out of frustration, anger, or protest. Tantrums can increase in times of stress or change. Typically between tantrums children’s behavior should return to normal.


Signs of tantrums that may need attention are if they persist beyond age 5, over 5 per day, behavior remains negative between tantrums, destruction of property, harm to self or others, or existence of other problem behaviors (sleep issues, aggression, bedwetting).


Some techniques for parenting to avoid tantrums are below.

  • Offer limited choices such as what color shirt to wear to allow expression of independence in a positive way.
  • Set aside special time with each child for positive attention so that the child doesn’t resort to a tantrum for attention.
  • “Time-in” when you notice the child escalating spend 5 min with them in a soothing and calming behavior.
  • Teach children healthy ways to vent anger/frustration: punch a pillow, run outside, use their words.
  • Remain calm during tantrums. If you shout or spank it shows you are out of control and the child feels less secure.
  • Praise positive behavior.
  • Ignore tantrums that are attention seeking or wanting something. Time-outs can be used.
  • Sometimes holding children who are raging can make them feel more secure and help them to calm.



What is Time Out? Immediately isolating a child in a boring place for a few minutes when he has broken a rule. Children hate to do nothing which is why timeout is a deterrent to bad behavior.


Why use Time Out? It is a cooling off period for the child (and parent).  It is not escalating or humiliating. It allows children to regain control of their emotions.


When to use it? Try to use it as little as possible. Threatening timeout or using it for small infractions will confuse the child.  Only use it for specific violations of the rules like aggressive behavior (hitting, biting, kicking, throwing) or dangerous behaviors in children.


Where to do it? A sturdy chair in a boring location, usually a corner or a blank wall.

Set up a timer out of reach of the child.

(When away from home, use the car or have your child sit on the floor or a bench.)

How to do it?

  1.    Begin with one or two rules only.  Expand only after time-outs for these rules are working.
  1. Giving a timeout for an action that is always against the rules is best.   “The rule in the house is NO hitting. I will not hit you, and you can not hit me or your sister.  If you forget, you are going to get a time out.”
  1. If the child hits, say “You have hit your sister. You need a time out.”
  2. If necessary, walk the child to the chair if he does not go on his own. Set the timer (ONE MINUTE FOR EVERY YEAR OF AGE.)
  3. If the child escapes from time out, take him back quickly and reset the timer. If necessary, stand behind the child with a hand on his shoulder to remind him to stay put.
  4. If necessary, hold the child with his arms crossed in the chair.
  5. Do not speak to the child or have eye contact while he’s in time out. The purpose of a timeout is the absence of attention – debating or arguing with your child gives them attention and re-enforces the behavior.
  1. When the timer goes off, the child knows the timeout is over.
  1.   Say “Thank you for taking your time out”, and resume normal activity.
  2.   A timeout MUST be given every time the child breaks the rule.


Yelling, “throwing” the child in the chair, giving lectures about the rule infraction, or making the child discuss the issues have all been shown to decrease the effectiveness of time out.  Parents should expect the behavior to worsen temporarily after starting to do time out, as the child tests the parent. If you always give the timeout for the same behavior, the behavior will begin to improve.  


If timeout does not seem to be working for you after three weeks of trying to talk to your doctor. Some modifications to the basic technique may be helpful to you.



123 MAGIC by Thomas Phelan

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