How To Handle Students Who Play Around In Time-Out

So you send a student to time-out and almost immediately they start goofing around. They wriggle in their seat. They giggle and make a racket. They stir up their classmates and distract them from their work.

Here you enforce a consequence in order to maintain control of your classroom, and things have only gotten worse. It’s a stressful situation that can make you feel as if you have no recourse. It can make you feel like you’re at the mercy of this one student.

But the truth is, until and unless you address the reason why a student would play around in time-out, there is precious little you can do about it beyond shushing, threatening, and crossing your fingers.

What follows are a few simple guidelines to help you avoid the situation from happening in the first place—while at the same time giving you the leverage to handle it if it does.

Model it.

When you first teach your classroom management plan it’s important to model this exact scenario. Nine times out of ten, students play around in time-out because you haven’t clearly defined what will happen if they don’t sit quietly.

Make clear the time-out requirements.

Be sure your students understand that they must prove to you they’re ready to leave time-out—which includes sitting quietly and attentively for at least fifteen minutes before respectfully requesting to rejoin their classmates. If these conditions aren’t met, they stay where they are.

Revisit your plan.

If you haven’t thoroughly covered the two items above, or if you’ve become inconsistent in seeing them through, then it’s critical to revisit your classroom management plan. Teach, model, and practice the ins and outs of time-out down to the smallest detail.

Remove the audience.

If, after a comprehensive reteaching of time-out, a student (in time-out) chooses to play around, the first step is to ensure that no one else gets involved. If another student communicates in any way with the student in time-out, then enforce a consequence immediately. This too must be modeled.

Remain unaffected.

When you first notice that a student you’ve just placed in time-out is goofing off, resist the urge to rush over and command them to stop or threaten further consequence. Instead, pause a moment or two—or three—before responding. There is no hurry. Finish what you were doing before calmly heading in their direction.


Without speaking, move into their field of vision to observe their behavior. Ten feet is about right. By your very presence force them to make the difficult choice to continue their disruptive behavior right in front of you or turn quiet and attentive. If it’s the latter, then no other response is needed.


If the student continues to misbehave, or misbehaves when you turn your back, then they’ve clearly broken several class rules. You now have no choice but to hand them a behavior letter to take home. Calmly inform them that they must remain in time-out for the rest of the day, and then turn and walk away.

Knowledge Is Power

Your students need to know from beginning to end what will happen if they misbehave, which then must be as sure as the stars in the sky. No surprises. No uncertainties. Just your promised response. This alone will eliminate nearly all time-out misbehavior.

When you model and specify in a highly detailed way the steps a misbehaving student will go through, including every eventuality from initial warning to letter home, and you prove yourself true to your word, then disruptions of any kind tend disappear from your classroom.

You should always be prepared, however, to follow through, to calmly do what you said you would do, to be a steady beacon of truth in a sea of compromising integrity.

Time-out isn’t just a time-out and your rules aren’t just rules. The way you teach, implement, and enforce them matters—tremendously. It’s everything. It’s the difference between hoping your students will behave . . .

And knowing they’ll behave.

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24 Responses to How To Handle Students Who Play Around In Time-Out

  1. itzyklein February 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Thanx michael

    another great article

    This is just what my class has been suffering from recently

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2014 at 7:17 am #

      You’re welcome, Itzyklein!


  2. Stephanie February 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Thank you so much for all of these amazing article you publish each week. I’m an instructional coach for a low achieving inner city school and each week I share a few of your articles with my teachers. You always deliver information in a no-nonsense way that is easy to read, understand, and implement… and that is extremely valuable when dealing with teachers who feel like they’ve “tried everything”. Thanks again and please keep the content coming! Do you take submission ideas? We have a plethora of specific needs at our site. I’d love to hear your suggestions for some of them!

    Steph 🙂

    • Michael Linsin February 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

      Hi Steph,

      I’m glad you find the articles useful. If you have a request for a future article, please email me and I’ll put it on the list.


  3. Chuck February 12, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Hey Michael,

    I’ve been having an issue in class with students who ‘respond’ to receiving a warning or a consequence in some typical ways:

    “I didn’t do anything!”, “Oh my GOOOOD.”, “What the- just for…?” etc.

    I’ve been following the procedure you use for avoiding arguments which is to quickly turn away, or ignore their outbursts. However when I ignore them they stew and get angry and it doesn’t seem to be good for developing the relationship you mention often in your posts as essential for building good classroom management.

    Should I just keep ignoring or should I take some sort of action?

    • Michael Linsin February 12, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

      Hi Chuck,

      If it happens in reaction to the consequence, then you do nothing. When they know they’re in time-out because of their own doing, it doesn’t affect the relationship. Don’t give it a second thought. The only time you respond is if it continues while they’re sitting in time-out. In which case, you follow the guidelines above.


  4. June March 4, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Hi, Michael,

    I am super excited about implementing your ideas from your books and enjoying my Dream Class!
    My question about this particular post is: How should I handle a situation in which a Kindergarten student is serving a time-out, and is continually causing disruption, even thought the final consequence of a letter home has been given?
    Thanks for any ideas!


    • Michael Linsin March 5, 2014 at 7:24 am #

      Hi June,

      That’s great to hear! Please read through the Difficult Student category of the archive. You should find your answers there. If you have a specific question about any strategy, please email me. I’m happy to help!


  5. Jax May 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    Hi Michael, I have read your books and articles with interest and am piloting your plan for my year group (10-11 yr olds). The rules are in place, parents informed, roles have been played and time-out table set up. However, there have been a few instances when a student needs a time-out whilst another student is already sitting there. What would you recommend? Many thanks!

    • Michael Linsin May 1, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

      Hi Jax,

      You have to figure out a way—if not at another time-out table, then at a side desk or work station. You must have two or three places in your room to separate students (from the larger class and each other) who have reached the second consequence.


  6. Jax May 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

    Thank you Michael,, what you suggest makes sense; we”re trying to work around it as our classrooms are rather small, but as you say, we”ll figure it out. Thanks again 🙂

  7. Sandy July 21, 2014 at 4:46 am #

    Thank you so much for an amazing site! I am new to teaching. I am in the process of earning my CDA for the pre-school setting. Is this too early to implement this form of expectation in preschool? I am teaching five year olds who who have begun Kindergarten and ones who will wait another year to begin. I will be purchasing your book for sure. I had a question about “time-out for the remainder of the day. Does this mean they lose priveleges for the rest of the school day?Is this strictly recess and activities> And what are they to do in that time out period? I guess being separated from the class as a whole is what the focus should be? And that this is a privilege to be part of the class and when behavior is corrected then that child would be able to return the next day for a fresh start. Thank you for your advice.

  8. Emily September 4, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Glad I found this article. It contained just the tiniest nuggets I needed to help me solve my time-out problem (which was turning into a joke with second graders). I’m printing this out to have with me tomorrow as I explicitly reteach.

    • Michael Linsin September 4, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

      Excellent, Emily! Thanks for sharing.


  9. Rho December 22, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    What is the appropriate “time-out” for 9th and 10th graders?

    • Michael Linsin December 23, 2014 at 9:02 am #

      Hi Rho,

      This is a big topic, one we don’t have the time or space to adequately cover here. In general you can use in-class time-out for first- and second-year high school students. Only, you wouldn’t call it time-out. And it must be done in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they’re back in middle school (and thus resentful). Your relationship with students is key to making it work.


  10. Tracey June 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    Please clarify how a student would leave time out. If they have done their time and request to leave, do you as the teacher talk to them or just say, “Yes you are done and go join your group at the …”?

    I am loving your book and the blog posts here. Thanks for the insight. I am excited to start the new year on a much better behavioral note.

  11. Lauren July 22, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    I have a question about a time out running into an out of classroom transition (such as lunch or a specialist). I have to walk my class to both lunch and specialists and am legally not allowed to leave a student unsupervised in the room. I do not have an IA or a classroom that joins to mine, so there is not way to leave the student in the room to finish their time if the whole class needs to transition. Similarly, what if this is happening at the end of the day when there isn’t adequate time for a time out? Suggestions? Thanks!

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      Hi Lauren,

      The student should finish time-out when you return from the transition. As for the end of the day, the explanation takes more time and space than we have here. I think I’ve written about it, but will put it on the list of future topics.


  12. Heather October 17, 2016 at 7:52 am #

    Can I ask, if after given the letter home..the what when? Do they still sit in time out? And what if after the letter home, sitting in time out, they go back and break a rule now for the fourth time..what then? I have a couple difficult students I could anticipate this happening with. Thank you!!

    • Michael Linsin October 17, 2016 at 8:01 am #

      It depends on which plan you’re using. For the elementary plan, yes, for the third consequence (and letter home) they return to time-out. If they break a fourth rule, then they again return to time-out.