What To Do When A Student Refuses To Go To Time-Out

When a student refuses to go to time-out, he (or she) often has a good reason. This doesn’t mean he isn’t responsible for making such a decision. He is—completely and fully. For it’s never okay to defy a teacher’s direction.

But in his mind he feels like he must take a stand.

In other words, there is something about the situation or incident that doesn’t sit right with him. Asking him to go to time-out, then, crosses the line of his brand of fairness.

So before answering what to do, it’s important we unpack why a student would refuse to go to time-out. Because if a student feels strongly enough to challenge a teacher’s directive, then it’s a red flag that there are deeper problems in need of addressing.

You see, difficult students in particular have an acute sense of fairness. And so if the way you manage your classroom is unfair, or perceived to be unfair, then it isn’t at all unusual to experience at times aggressive pushback.

In fact, defiant behavior would be expected in such a classroom.

What follows are four reasons why a student would refuse to go to time-out. Clean these up first. Get them fixed and squared away. And then, although a refusal to go to time-out could still happen, it would be as rare as a class set of encyclopedias.

1. Your students don’t understand your classroom management plan.

If a student breaks a classroom rule, but doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, then there is a good chance he’ll become defiant. This is one of many reasons why it’s so important to teach, model, role-play, and practice your classroom management plan thoroughly.

Your students need to know, and experience, your plan backwards and forwards—why it’s important, why it’s wrong to break rules, and exactly, step-by-step, what will happen if they do. There should never be any surprises, disagreements, or misunderstandings. Just it-is-what-it-is accountability.

2. You’re inconsistent.

If ever you let misbehavior go without a consequence, you’re asking for trouble. Your most difficult students will grow especially bitter if you look the other way when another student breaks a rule, because they know they’re rarely afforded such luxury.

And so when you send them to time-out, it’s only natural to get resistance. Teachers who have their rules and consequences on a sliding scale, open to their whims, biases, and interpretations, struggle mightily with classroom management—because it’s unfair, and students know it.

3. There is friction between you and your students.

Students resent teachers who yell, scold, lecture, and otherwise take misbehavior personally. It makes them feel like they’re being picked on and singled-out—which causes them to fight back by increasing their disruptive activities, particularly behind the teacher’s back.

Worse yet, because the teacher doesn’t let the agreed-upon consequences be the only consequences (i.e., adding lectures, sighs, eye-rolls, talking-tos, etc.), the students begin to view their teacher as spiteful, unfair, and unlikable.

4. There are uncertainties surrounding the incident of misbehavior.

Before sending a student to time-out, it’s important to be sure a rule has been broken. If you’re not positive, if you didn’t personally witness the incident, then it’s best to investigate until you know the truth. Getting it wrong can cause students to shut down, lash out, or sever their trust and belief in you.

By the same token, it’s important to be clear with students why you’re sending them to time-out. Tell them plainly what rule was broken and what the consequence will be. When caught red-handed and confronted directly, few students will disagree or make a fuss.

Now, What To Do

If, after eliminating the reasons above, the improbable happens and a student refuses to go to time-out, then handling it is easy.

Say, “Before you make that choice I’m going to give you two minutes to think about it. If after two minutes, you’re still sitting here, then I’m going to prepare a letter for you to take home to your parents.” (The third consequence.)

Then turn and go back to whatever you were doing.

It’s now out of your hands and completely the student’s decision. And as far as you’re concerned, because you’ve eliminated any valid reason why he’d refuse to go to time-out, what he decides doesn’t affect you in the least.

It’s his choice.

And when a student knows it’s his choice, and that he’s not going to get any coaxing or prodding from you, or get even the slightest rise out of you, then it’s a near certainty that he’s going to quietly stand and take himself to time-out.

And if he doesn’t?

Que será, será. Follow your classroom management plan. Do what you promised you’d do. After he cools down—perhaps even forgotten about the incident—approach casually, hand him his letter, and say…

“I want this signed and returned in morning.”

And then get on with your day.

If you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.

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35 Responses to What To Do When A Student Refuses To Go To Time-Out

  1. Jeff Sandberg March 31, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Great posts. Some of the best writing on classroom management I’ve read.

  2. Amanda March 31, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    This advice is great. Do you have any advice for what to do in this situation when I only see my students weekly? It’s hard to have accountability, such as the letter, when I won’t see them for a week.

    • Michael Linsin March 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Hi Amanda,

      Sending a letter home as a third consequence works as well for art, music, and PE teachers–though with a few small modifications. I hope to write in detail exactly how to do this on another website. I’ll be sure and let you know when I do.


  3. Jonadab April 1, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    Another tonic for teachers battling with classroom management. Please is there any article on how to reward excellent classroom behaviour? Thanks sir Michael. Your brand new ideas are more than effective.

    • Michael Linsin April 1, 2012 at 5:08 am #

      Thanks Jonadab! Be sure and look through the Incentives & Praise category of the archive–with more to come!


  4. Kenny Robinson April 1, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks so much, Michael. This really answered one of the biggest questions that I had. I have a few students that will refuse to go to a “Time-Out” upon request. Now I might see why a student may resist going to a “Time-Out” if I am being inconsistent.

    I never yell, I hate yelling. I rarely lecture my students. But I do feel that I am being inconsistent at times. I might have a student that has major behavior issues and I only give them one chance. Whereas I might give a student who is a model student break a rule and I will give them a 2nd-3rd chance. So yeah, I can see where I am inconsistent.

    Thanks as always, Micheal. Great articles as usual. BTW…I love your book.

    • Michael Linsin April 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Thanks Kenny!

  5. John April 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Wow, what a great blog! I’m sorry I’m only now discovering it. Your basic notion about unpacking is so very important. It’s so true that if the student perceives there to be an issue, there’s even more of a problem. Being a college faculty member, I only know about classroom issues through discussions with my K-12 friends and – recently – colleagues. The toughest issue to me at least that I hear about is dealing with the student who in some ways is being coached to rebel by parents that are revengeful toward teachers and schools.

    • Michael Linsin April 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi John,

      Glad you found the SCM website! I hope you become a regular reader.


  6. Janet Abercrombie April 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    The idea of choice is SO important – even if it is a little one. When students are prone to breakdowns (anger or other), I will say, “I can see you are upset right now. Do you need three minutes or five minutes to calm yourself down?”

    When I return in three to five minutes, we can have a better conversation about the issues.

    Janet | expateducator.com

  7. Mendy August 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I’m really enjoying and benefiting from this website. I especially enjoy the discussions after each article!

    I have students who are usually good, but as soon as they get a warning (or whatever the first step of my classroom management plan is) they get angry, feel that they’ve been labeled “bad”, and act accordingly in a downward spiral.

    I know that it isn’t advisably to ignore bad behavior and be inconsistent, so how would I deal with that?


    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      Hi Mendy,

      It sounds like a relationship issue. Coincidentally, it was my first thought when reading about your time-out concerns. When a student gets angry because of a consequence, in most, if not all, cases it’s at the teacher (i.e., because of the teacher). One of the benefits of time-out is that, if taught thoroughly enough ahead of time, students don’t feel labeled. As to your question, if they act up in time-out, you proceed to the next consequence. Please read through the archive to get a feel for the philosophy of Smart Classroom Management. I know there is a lot there, but your questions reveal that it would be really, really helpful to you.


  8. Gayle November 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    At the end of the 2011-2012 school year I had reached the end of my rope. Things had literally become so bad I would come home at the end of each day whimper over my dinner and fall into bed with the greatest and most desperate feelings of dread I have ever experienced as I contemplated returning to school the next day. In my mind, there was nothing out there that could solve my classroom management problems. I just happened upon your website, (I think it was an answer to prayer, honestly) and I’ve transformed into the teacher I’ve always wanted to be. I would love to write a very long post about how I’ve put your plan into my music program but it would take pages. Where can I send a letter about my successes? It’s amazing!

    • Michael Linsin November 5, 2012 at 7:50 am #

      Hi Gayle,

      That’s wonderful! I’m so happy the website was able to help. It’s an answer to my prayers that Smart Classroom Management would benefit someone like you. Thanks so much for sharing your success, and if you want to share in more detail, just email me. I’d love to hear about it!


  9. Mike November 18, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    What should be done if after a student refuses to return the letter and fails to attend the recess timeout? Do you call the parent? Send to the office?

    • Michael Linsin November 18, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Hi Mike,

      An outright refusal and ignoring of your consequences is a brazen show of disrespect of you and your classroom, and it must be dealt with strongly. Read this series: How To Turn . . ., which explains how to handle a difficult student like this.


  10. Emilia May 27, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    Hi, just found your website and have been reading through your archives. I have infant (K/1) class of 24 with 3 particular student who are blatantly disrespectful. I follow the classroom rules with consequences strictly but have difficulty when I have to send one of my difficult students to time out. They refuse to go, often run away into the second part of the classroom or hid under tables or run out of the classroom. Following this another difficult student who was doing the right thing or on the verge of a warnings will join them.They will run around the room, play with toys, ignore my instructions, throw things at other student. I try to give them a warning but sometimes they just run away and I just have to calming give the ‘choice’ to them across the room rather than engage in chasing them. I send for staff to come as they refuse to go to a buddy class, but while the staff come (sometimes they don’t) I am left wondering wether to ignore them which sends the message I don’t care and the rest of the class will remind me what they are doing and often it is something dangerous. Or leave the rest of the class to deal with them when they just run away? They have been kept in to miss out on recess, had letters home and sent days/weeks with executive staff due to bad behaviour- but it doesn’t seem effective. As a beginning teacher I am left feeling hopeless, like I cannot manage my class and shouldn’t be a teacher. HELP!

    • Michael Linsin May 27, 2014 at 6:32 am #

      Hi Emilia,

      You’ve come to the right place. I encourage you to continue to read through the archive. I think that once you understand our approach and get a handle on our strategies, you’ll find your answers. It’s hard to give you specific advice because you need a complete and comprehensive approach, incorporating all areas of effective classroom management.


  11. Becca August 5, 2014 at 7:23 am #


    I really appreciate your articles! They have helped me a lot. I’m getting ready to start your classroom management plan for this school year. I know the class has a tendency to be very talkative, especially without raising their hands. If a student continues to talk without permission, or break any other rules, and you’ve already given them the letter home, what happens next?

    • Michael Linsin August 5, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Becca,

      You send them back to time-out, where they remain for the rest of the day. You’ll also want to add this new information to their letter, and give a heads up phone call home.


  12. Michelle August 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Thank you for the advice. I’ve tried the advice and it works most of the time. What do I do when the student refuses to look at me or to speak to me. My class walked in from recess toward the room when one of my students decided to sit down in a chair inside the door and NOT move. It was the end of the day and I needed to take my students to the room to pack up. I gave the student two choices, to walk back to the room with me to get ready to go home, or sit there and the counselor would bring her back to the room. I think she was upset about recess being over, but IDK. She chose to sit there staring into space and remain silent. The counselor was able to get her out of the chair and guide her back to the room. When she got back to the room she started fighting the counselor and knocked her down. Then she sat on the floor and cried for a few minutes, went to one of her three seats in the room, and hugged her stuffed animal. When I was finished giving directions to the class she asked me if she could apologize to the counselor. She has a history of doing this for the past 3 years. So with all that said, what could have I done differently to prevent the meltdown while getting my class to where we needed to be on time? Thanks

    • Michael Linsin August 17, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      Hi Michelle,

      There may not have been anything you could have done better in the moment. The key is not to be able to come up with the magic words to get the child to do what you ask (trying to do this virtually guarantees they’ll fall on deaf ears), the key is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This you can control by following the advice above.


  13. Michelle August 16, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    This is for Emilia,
    I’m planning on trying the super improver team wall from wholebrainteaching.com to hopefully help with my child that refuses to work. Maybe it could work for your three.

  14. Hayley October 19, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I have experienced some children crying when in Time Out, after they have been sent from breaking class rules (Relief Teaching).

    Should I address the crying or just ignore it? I am not sure if this is because they are not used to being held accountable from their regular teacher or I unfairly issued the consequence.



    • Michael Linsin October 19, 2014 at 6:42 am #

      Hi Hayley,

      As long as your students fully understand the rules, then enforcing them isn’t unfair. In this case, then yes, it’s best to ignore it.


  15. Celeste July 19, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    I am so happy that I discovered this blog when I did. I will be starting my first K-5 music teaching job this school year and I am loving your book on classroom management for music teachers. Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin July 19, 2015 at 10:06 am #

      You’re welcome, Celeste! I’m so glad you found us.


  16. Emily August 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    Just browsing the essential articles for a new school year and came up with a question…

    I have a couple of kids this year who get something of a look of pride when sent to time-out. They haven’t been especially troublesome for 2nd graders, but there’s a smirk. I’ve been ignoring it and carrying on without any attention to their particular facial expressions, and the boys accept the consequences and time-out behavior without any drama. Should I just continue to just administer the consequence? (Note: this isn’t a daily thing, just the couple of times they’ve gone to time-out in the past few weeks).

    • Michael Linsin August 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      Yes, just continue to follow through.


  17. Mara September 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for all the articles – I’ve found many of them extremely helpful.

    Yesterday I had a student who refused to go to time out. It turns out that her reason was that she was embarrassed. I was pretty subtle in the way I asked her to move, so it seems that just getting up and switching seats was embarrassing for her. She referred to the timeout desk as “the desk of shame”.

    Any suggestions for ways to avoid students feeling humiliated by timeout?



    • Michael Linsin September 11, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      Hi Mara,

      It’s all in the way you define it. You have to let her and all your students know that the purpose is for them to reflect on their misbehavior and vow privately not to do it again. It is not meant to shame, humiliate, or even punish for that matter.


  18. Liuda April 5, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    Hi, Michael,

    Could you please clarify one issue? I teach a foreign language through games. It helps to create the community my students want to be a part of. The question is – if a student after 2 minutes of thinking decides not to go to time out and the 3 concequence is to come should I treat this student as a valued member of the group? Or it is better not to allow him to play with us? Thanks a lot.

    • Michael Linsin April 6, 2016 at 6:56 am #

      Hi Liuda,

      I wouldn’t allow the child to play.