How To Get Students To Stay Seated And Quiet In Time-Out

A reader posted a question this week asking what to do if a student, in this case a kindergartner, crawled on the floor and under tables after being sent to time-out. Playing, straying, and not sitting quietly in time-out can happen regardless of grade level.

And this problem can be especially frustrating. It pulls the teacher away from his or her responsibilities and diverts the attention of the class away from the lesson and toward the misbehaving student.

To make matters worse, how you handle a situation like this can negatively affect the behavior of the rest of the class. More specifically, if the student in time-out gets away with behaving poorly, or is able to get under your skin, then others will follow.

So in that moment, what are your choices? How do you respond without demanding, lecturing, or yelling? Do you have another recourse?

These are important questions because they go straight to the heart of a teacher’s job satisfaction. The worst position to be in as a teacher is one where you feel you have no leverage, no recourse, and no options other than responding out of anger and going home stressed and discouraged.

Many teachers leave the profession because of it. And I don’t blame them. If I felt that students controlled my fate, that they decided whether I enjoyed my day or not, I’d consider another line of work too.

When a student misbehaves in time-out, it’s a blinking sign that your time-out isn’t working and won’t effectively curb misbehavior. Furthermore, it’s an act of defiance and shows a lack of concern over your consequences.

What To Do

In response to students who don’t sit quietly in time-out, there are six things you can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

1. Show your students a complete picture, from start to finish, of what they’re expected to do if told to go to time out. Use detailed modeling. Demonstrate how to walk to time-out, where to sit, and precisely how you expect them to spend their time there.

2. Use the “how not” strategy and be sure to include any unwanted behaviors you’ve seen from your students (i.e., crawling under tables, making loud noises, leaving the time-out chair).

3. Have them practice. Choose students “randomly,” one at a time, to show the class how to do it.  Make them prove to you they understand the ins and outs of going to time-out.

4. When a particularly difficult student is sent to time-out, if at all possible, ratchet up the fun. Have a learning game or activity in your back pocket for such moments. Time-out is only effective if the student feels he or she is missing something.

5. Back up your time-out with a consequence. Think of the one thing you do as a class repeatedly, every day or every week, that your students love the most. It can be a certain lesson, game, song, story, or anything you wish. Whatever it is, missing that activity should be your consequence for not sitting quietly in time-out.

If you’re thinking, “I hate that they have to miss such a great activity. They love it so much and I feel bad taking it away from them,” then you know you’ve chosen the right one.

6. Follow through. Do what you say you will do, and do it every time.

If you discover that a student you sent to time-out isn’t sitting properly, or is otherwise not following the time-out directives, don’t overreact. Better yet, don’t react at all.

I know this is difficult to do at times, especially if the student is disrupting your class. But, at this point, it’s too late. If you try to “win the battle” by yelling, demanding, or lecturing, you’ll lose the war (so to speak).

Wait until the time-out is over and the student has settled down, and then calmly approach. Lean in and say, “Evette, because you didn’t sit quietly in time-out, you will have to miss the Jeopardy vocabulary game this afternoon.”

Don’t wait for a response. Turn and walk away.

When the time for the game or enjoyable activity arrives, show your enthusiasm for the event and allow your students to get excited. But just seconds before the start, when the room is silent, walk over to the offending student and remind her that she won’t be allowed to participate.

As you increase the interest, excitement, and enjoyment in your classroom, as well as your likability, classroom management becomes an easier proposition. Add to it an unbending commitment to accountability, and you have an unbeatable combination.

Everything you do—how you speak, the classroom environment you create, your relationship with students, and much more—affects classroom management. The entirety of how you can use these to your advantage can be found in the book Dream Class.

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17 Responses to How To Get Students To Stay Seated And Quiet In Time-Out

  1. Muniba Ali January 27, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    What is an effective way to deal with an impulsive child who is good-natured and wants to cooperate, but frequently finds him- or herself “forgetting” to follow directions or sit attentively?

    Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin January 27, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

      Hi Muniba,

      It may take a student like this a bit longer to get with your program, but if you stick with your classroom management plan and enforce the rules for this student like you do everyone else, he or she will get there. You must not, however, excuse his/her behavior because he/she may be more impulsive than others. You do students no favors by holding them to a different standard. If you do, it is akin to giving up on them–to some degree. It’s like saying, “Well, Jenny is impulsive and forgetful, so I don’t expect her to follow directions like everyone else.”

      We can all make excuses and come up with reasons why we can’t do this or that. But they do us no good. Enforce your rules without added lectures, reminders, pep talks, etc., and he or she will get it sooner rather than later.

  2. Julia Clapper October 11, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Is it effective to have a student sit apart from the class all the time? I am talking about students who CAN NOT keep their hands to theirselves and are constantly disruptive, etc. I know in the behavior letter to the parents it says that the child will be in all day time-out. I would consider sitting apart from the others an “all day time-out.” So if they already sit apart from the class does that mess with that? Should I just move them back with the other students and start over with time-outs & consequenses instead of having them sit apart all the time? This is my first year teaching and I am at a very low income school with kids that have home issues. (I did already read about not making excuses for the kids. That helped me a lot b/c I feel like I should waver for them since they live less than desirable home lives.)

    • Michael Linsin October 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

      Hi Julia,

      I’m not in favor of separating students permanently from their classmates. By keeping them separated, you’re communicating to them that they’re unable to control themselves like regular members of the class. And behavior won’t improve. It will likely worsen. I write about this extensively in Dream Class. The chapter is called Treat The Cause, Not The Symptoms.


  3. Stephanie July 31, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    I am thrilled to have found you! Your book is on its way to my mailbox, as well. From the point where you say, “Wait until the time-out is over and the student has settled down…” is the student back in her regular seat, or does this take place while still in time-out?

    • Michael Linsin August 1, 2011 at 8:12 am #

      Hi Stephanie,

      You’ll approach and whisper to the student while she is still in time-out.

      🙂 Michael

  4. Katie August 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    What if you have a volatile student who refuses to get up from his or her seat and go to the time out area. If a student does get up to go to time out, but kick or knocks items and chairs down as he or she goes, how is this handled? Thanks!

  5. Misty March 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    My question is about extended time out. I have a few kiddos that are still there two days later without a parent letter signed. I am fine with that. However, my question is what do you do when they are yelling out and getting up while in extended time out. We reviewed and I modeled and remodeled both the correct and incorrect way. I just am at a loss. It is minor, however, I just don’t want it to esculate. My class is turning into a dream class and just over a week ago they were a nightmare.


    • Michael Linsin March 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      Give it time, Misty. It sounds like you’re implementing some of the strategies for the first time–so it’s probably a shock to their system. Also, because it’s been a couple days, I would definitely call home to see where the letters are. As for students misbehaving in time-out, continue to enforce your consequences, but instead of time-out, have them spend their recess with you, and then if it comes to it, staple a new letter to the old letter and ask for both to be signed. You may want to send a copy of the old letter home anyway–with a phone call saying it’s on the way.


  6. Vijay Chelliah September 30, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Dear Michael,
    Thanks for all the wonderful articles on Class Room Management. I do a lot of training in this area and reading your articles regularly has made me more of an expert because of the calls that I keep getting.
    As we approach yet another Christmas, I thank God for giving me an opportunity to address teachers on managing classes effectively. In fact a time has come that the very sight of students before them unsettles many teachers.
    Your inputs are coming in very handy to train, inspire and encourage teachers.
    Even as I celebrate Christmas this year I thank the Lord for being the greatest teacher of them all.
    God bless you !
    Vijay Chelliah

    • Michael Linsin October 1, 2012 at 6:53 am #

      Thank you, Vijay! I appreciate you sharing with me. Keep up the wonderful work you’re doing with teachers. Soli Deo Gloria


  7. Lacy December 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    I’d like to discuss Muniba’s topic, specifically your response: “You must not, however, excuse his/her behavior because he/she may be more impulsive than others. You do students no favors by holding them to a different standard. If you do, it is akin to giving up on them–to some degree. ”

    What about taking into account the personality of each student. This feels like demanding that the students conform to one right mode of being. It feels like not seeing each student for who he or she is. It feels like the classroom becomes a quiet forest, but you miss the trees. If one student is naturally impulsive, and if one views this as negative, then yes, this is giving up on a student to give room for impulsiveness. But if their impulsiveness is due to a personality that is quick to react, then this student has strengths and weaknesses that go along with this trait. This trait is not a negative, it just is. I feel like this philosophy falls short of honoring the differences in each student that are good. The individual is being sacrificed for the good of the whole, or the good of certain “good” students. I think educating teachers about the myers briggs personality theory could bring balance to your approach.

  8. cynthia August 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Dear Mr. Linsin…what to do when my principal is very controlling and wants all of us to have the same classroom management plan? Then, after reviewing it at the beginning of the year, he (the principal) does not support or back up the teacher with the consequences later in the year. He is more into “fixing” the kids than supporting consequences. Should I just leave the principal out of it all together and just work with my team? This is very frustrating for me. As the new year begins, I am having agnst about this. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

    • Michael Linsin August 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Hi Cynthia,

      I really believe that you should do your best to work within the parameters given by the principal. In the long run, despite how frustrating it can be, I think this is good advice. As far as supporting you in regard to student behavior, it’s best to handle all behavior issues yourself–unless, that is, you must document dangerous behavior. You can read more about this here: Why You Should Handle…


  9. Mrs. Muniz July 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    Hello Mr Linsin, I teach high school students, would you use time out with this age level? Our school implements a demerits system, would you recommend to substitute it after the warning consequence ? The demerits are sent with the offending student to the principals office, then it goes home to be signed by the parents, what are your thoughts…

    • Michael Linsin July 27, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Mrs. Muniz,

      No, I don’t recommend time-out for high schoolers. A plan that gives high school students the opportunity to fix their misbehavior before issuing a consequence like the one you describe is best. I’ll be sure to cover this topic in detail either in an upcoming article or book. Stay tuned!