One-Minute Time-out

Mark Hirschmann, PhD LMFT

Does your child whine when you impose discipline?
Are you tired of yelling to get your children to obey?

Then learn the “ONE MINUTE TIME-OUT” and ease your parenting frustrations.

For Example:
Liz age 6 and Peter age 4 are playing as their voices become loud in disagreement. The parent walks into the room and says with a calm but firm voice, “Both of you, one minute time out for using outside voice.” In response, both children remain in place and quiet down. The parent remains nearby but purposely not engaging in eye contact or conversation. After one minute, the parent says, “One minute is over, please use inside voice.” Appropriate behavior resumes.

This sounds simple and it can be once a routine has been established. Many children from 2 to 10 respond readily to the “One Minute Time-out.” The parental investment is manageable, yielding long-lasting results. Here is how to do it.

The Conventional Pattern

Children frequently try to get what they want by escalating demanding behaviors to disruptive levels. Frequently parents (or other in-home caregivers) respond by issuing warnings of impending punishment but neglect to carry them out. As a result, your child learns that a warning came be ignored. At a certain level of escalated child behavior, parents react in anger with a loud voice. The child temporarily ceases the negative behavior. The child feels demeaned and the parent feels guilty. A little later the pattern starts all over again.


The purpose is to interrupt the negative behavior cycle and redirect children to a positive activity. The One Minute Time-out is not a punishment. It is a way to block negative behaviors and foster positive child interactions. There is no need to impose time-outs longer than one minute, unless child behavior warrants an increase.


A. Plan Thoughtfully
B. Develop “The Voice”
C. Introduce the One Minute Time-out
D. Intervene Calmly
E. Observe for Common Pitfalls

A. Plan Thoughtfully

The parents and regular in-home caregivers should work together in this stage. Decide upon the misbehaviors to be changed and identify the early signs of these behaviors. Start with simple behaviors that parents and children will easily recognize as misbehavior. (If this is a single parent or blended family, the primary parent must agree to this plan and delegate the use of the plan to the other regular in-home caregivers.)

    Misbehaviors                                   Early Signs

1. _______________________________ _________________________________

2. _______________________________ _________________________________, etc.

B. Develop “The Voice”

Yelling tends to escalate for both adults and children. Save yelling for stopping your child from immediate danger, such as running into a busy street. Instead, use a calm, firm voice that is slightly slower in pace, lower in pitch, and softer in volume than normal conversational speech. Practice “The Voice” as your first response to misbehavior, suggesting the preferred behavior. Once you child learns to recognize “The Voice” she or he will know you mean business.

C. Introduce the One Minute Time-out

  1. Find a quiet moment with your child and introduce the idea of a One Minute Time-out.
    We will be doing One Minute Time-outs. When you hear me say “time out, one minute” you are to stop what you are doing. I will tell you why I am giving you a time-out. It will sound like this, “Time out for using outside voice indoors.” I will let you know when one minute is over. If you continued using outside voice or talking back, I will say “One more minute” and add a minute to your time-out. (This is a brief informative announcement not a point of negotiation with your child.)
  2. During the intervention, having your child remain in place is usually sufficient. You might want to indicate a close place to stand or sit that keeps your child out of arms reach of the offending objects or persons. Assigning a “quiet place” in the next room may work for some children, but it compromises the intention to make this a quick, painless interruption of misbehavior.
  3. Some children, particularly younger ones, benefit from seeing the use of an egg timer. Keep an egg-timer in a convenient place. Set the timer and turn it to one minute while announcing the time-out. If your child does not respond, then you simply say, “One more minute,” and adjust the timer accordingly: one minute at a time for each infraction of the rule. The time out is over when the bell rings.

D. Intervention

  1. Initiate the one minute time-out on a routine day when you have sufficient patience to spend extra time working through the reactions of your children. Look for the early signs of misbehavior.
  2. Expect your child to test this new discipline. They will likely respond with continued negative behavior and talking back. This is where the “one more minute” phrase comes into play.
    Child: I wasn’t doing anything.
    Parent: One more minute.
    Child: She started it.
    Parent One more minute.
    Child: This isn’t fair.
    Parent: One more minute.
    Child: You are a stupid, Mom.
    Parent: One more minute. (Don’t lose your cool!)
    (Finally wait for the ring of the timer or decide yourself when the approximate time has elapsed)
    Parent: Time out is over, play quietly now.
  3. During the initial and subsequent minutes, stay in the same room with the child but divert your eyes away from your child and appear to pay attention to something else. Your child will try to engage your attention on his or her terms. Simply say, “One more minute.” Note that indifferent parental presence is difficult for children to tolerate. At the onset, minutes may add up. Keep adding, but return the child to normal behavior at about ten minutes or less. This will make your point without turning this into an ordeal. Be prepared for testing to continue for a few days. Testing will also reappear every once and a while.
  4. The children will gradually realize that the line of least resistance is to respond to the initial command for a One Minute Time-out.
  5. If this adjustment phase lasts more than a few days, temporarily prepare small positive behaviors as an incentive to keep the time-outs short. For example,
    Parent: Time-out is over, let’s read your favorite book; or
    time-out is over, help me bake some cookies; or
    time out is over, I have a new coloring book for you.
    The purpose of an extra positive reward after the time-out is to establish a pattern of re-engaging our child in a positive behavior. Do not use it as a bargaining tool. Avoid saying, “If you stay in time out, then I will let you play outside.”

E. Observe for common pitfalls when the One Minute Time-out is not working effectively.

  1. Are you intervening early enough, at the “first signs;” before negative behavior gains too much momentum?
  2. Are you personally upset by the time you intervene, making “The Voice” difficult to manage?
  3. During the intervention, are you sufficiently present but disengaged with your child?
  4. Are you giving warnings like, “Do you want a time-out?” (Warnings have fuzzy boundaries and make it more difficult for your child to learn appropriate behavior. An effective One Minute Time-out is almost quick as a warning.)
  5. Are you listening to your child explain the cause of the problem, before initiating an intervention? If so initiate the One Minute Time-out and then listen to the concerns of your child.
  6. Has your child matured over time? Do you need to return to the planning stage to assess new behaviors?
  7. Are you being consistent over time with the “when” and “how” of your interventions?
  8. Are you and the regular in-home caregivers being consistent with the “when” and “how” of intervention?
  9. Are you finding opportunities to “catch” your children doing positive behaviors and complimenting them.

A Caution

The One Minute Time-out offers a great benefit to family; however, there are no guarantees of success. If a problem persists, see a marriage and family therapist or a professional child specialist.

Additional Benefits to the One Minute Time-out

When the One Minute Time-out is firmly established, it is possible to introduce new possibilities. Toys in dispute can be placed in time out. The controller for a video game can be placed in time out.

Once when driving on an expressway with our two children were verbally fighting in the rear seat. My wife said, “Your mouths are in time out, one minute.” They stopped talking and resume acceptable play in one minute when the time-out was over.

Email Mark Hirschmann