Why Your Time-Out May Be A Waste Of Time

to9Here at SCM we recommend a 15-minute time-out.

Even for younger students.

This is longer than many teachers are comfortable with.

The thinking is that a student in time-out will miss too much participation time.

They’ll grow bored and antsy and start misbehaving.

Besides, it’s too harsh.

But none of this is true. In fact, done right, 15 minutes is the perfect amount of time for time-out.

Here’s why:

Your students need time to take responsibility.

When a student is sent to time-out, they spend the first few minutes calming down and coming to grips with why they’re there.

They replay the incident and mull it over in their mind.

And as long as you refrain from lecturing, scolding, and the like, and allow time-out to do its job without your interference, they’ll take the next step.

They’ll search for the moment they went astray. They’ll identify the decision they made that broke the class rules.

They’ll take responsibility.

And taking responsibility is what keeps students out of time-out. It is the lesson learned, the healthy humble pie, the dissuader of future misbehavior.

But this progression of thought doesn’t happen in five minutes. Or even 10 minutes. Your students need every bit of 15 minutes to take ownership of their mistakes.

Your students will spend less time in time-out.

When you enforce consequences calmly, consistently, and without causing friction, the process of reflection and responsibility comes naturally.

It must come—or time-out is a waste of time.

If the student is angry at you because you glared and questioned them, or because you didn’t hold Jeffrey or Karla accountable for the same thing the day before, then they won’t take responsibility.

They won’t even get beyond the calming down phase.

They’ll grumble under their breath. They’ll blame others involved. They’ll point the finger at anyone and everyone but themselves.

This is why it’s so important that time-out be as impersonal and consistent as a metronome. You’re a robot following orders, nothing more.

The upshot is that over the course of a school year, your students will spend far less time in time-out.

Make It Matter

Many teachers believe that the longer you leave students in time-out, the greater the chances that they’ll misbehave while they’re there—because that’s been their experience.

But length of time isn’t the problem. Students play around in time-out when they feel the consequence is unfair.

This underscores the importance of keeping the focus off of you and your personal feelings.

It’s about them and their decision to break a class rule. It’s not about you and your frustration. They need to see that they alone are responsible for being separated from the class.

Therefore, be sure they know exactly what rule was broken, deliver your consequence matter-of-factly, and then leave them to it.

Just turn and walk away. Continue your lesson as if nothing happened.

In the meantime, your commitment to creating a classroom your students love being a part of will make even the prospect of time-out an intensely unattractive possibility.

It will prompt in misbehaving students a deep reflection, humility, and the desire to be a better classmate.

It will cause them to think twice about misbehaving.

Make time-out matter to your students. Heap the responsibility for being there entirely upon their shoulders. Give them 15 minutes to stew and reflect and own up to their wrongdoing.

And time-out will work as it should.

PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.


23 Responses to Why Your Time-Out May Be A Waste Of Time

  1. Emily August 29, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    I’m finding this year the 15/20 minute mark is the natural time (generally) when my 2nd graders look over with big eyes and raise their hands to ask to return to their spots. And I feel I’m having fewer kids winding up in time out. Third week of school, still quite a few warnings, but the time-out events aren’t reached nearly as much. But yes, 15 minutes or so seems a fairly natural time period for this age group to get back on track.

  2. Ali Williams August 29, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    When a student does misbehave (yell out, get out of seat, walk out of room, interact with other students) in time-out, I understand that a letter is now the consequence. Do you have them stay longer in time out until they calm down?

    • Michael Linsin August 29, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Ali,

      Yes. 🙂


  3. Tim August 29, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    I have 9th grade Earth/Space this year, general population, no honors or AP. Generally, I teach honors and AP biology to predominately 10th graders. This year is my first year with 9th graders.

    I am wondering, how old is too old for timeouts?

    Typically, I tell my honors and AP bio students that they are young adults in pre-college or college courses and I treat them as such from day one. This strategy is not working with some these gen-pop 9th graders. they are disrupting class.

    Can I expect them to rise to the level of “young adults”? Is time out effective or permissible with 9th graders?

    Please also reply by email to timtillman@yahoo.com.


    • Michael Linsin August 30, 2015 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Tim,

      An alternative, appropriate for high school (rather than time-out), would be a quick (30-second) conference with you after class, whereupon you’ll advise them to take care of it (the misbehavior) on their own or, if it happens again, they’ll lose a percentage or point from their behavior/citizenship grade. Why and the how this is effective, as well as how it can also be connected to a school-wide detention (if applicable), will have to wait for another day. I’m planning to write a guide or ebook for high school teachers in the near future.


  4. Sharon August 29, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    Is 15 min too long for a three year old?

    • Michael Linsin August 30, 2015 at 10:19 am #

      Hi Sharon,

      Yes, in my opinion it is.


  5. Matt August 30, 2015 at 2:55 pm #


    Do you think 15 minutes is still appropriate for a music specialist who sees kids twice a week for 45 minutes each period? Is the intent to make the timeout long enough to really make a strong point about the disruptive behavior?

    I can see fellow teachers/parents complaining about this length. I’ve always done maybe 5-7 minutes at most.


  6. ykjchang October 2, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

    I totally agree that an immediate time out is better than recess time out.Yet, what happens if the kid is very stubborn and refuses to leave his seat. If the teacher insist on time out,‘wall’can break out at once.⚡⚡⚡

  7. Andrew January 12, 2016 at 3:37 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I have been reading through the discussions on ‘time out’ and would like to know how to deal with students who disrupt and draw attention to themselves while being in time out. Examples include, refusing to stay in their time out chair, sticking their head in the window and making faces, calling out to come back, throwing things. I realise that you have most likely covered this somewhere, I just haven’t found a anything that directly addresses this. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.


  8. Andrew January 12, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    Many thanks Michael. That link is very helpful. I have just finished reading classroom managements for the arts… It is full of highlights and is being used in setting up my routines and strategies for this year. Thanks,

    • Michael Linsin January 13, 2016 at 7:36 am #

      You’re welcome, Andrew.


  9. Cindy April 13, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    HI Michael, Until you write your highly anticipated book for high school teachers, are there any resources you would recommend in the interim?


    • Michael Linsin April 13, 2016 at 7:01 am #

      I’m sorry, Cindy. I don’t have any to recommend. However, the new book (out May 3rd) is for all teachers.


  10. Emily June 25, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

    Is a time-out an appropriate consequence for 7th graders? My classes are around 50 minutes each and I am having a hard time seeing students take this seriously. Also, if the rules are the 4 you have on your website, I might have multiple students who are not following directions, out of seat, touching another student, talking…all at the same time or while another student is in time-out. Any suggestions for middle school?

    • Michael Linsin June 26, 2016 at 9:58 am #

      Hi Emily,

      I’m writing about this very topic in an upcoming e-guide for middle and high school teachers. It should be ready by mid to late July. In the meantime, although it can be appropriate, depending on your school/situation, it may not be. I’ll cover what to do instead in the guide.


  11. Emily August 17, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I agree that consistency among all students with consequences is crucial. However, I am concerned with students with IEP or 504 plans in middle school. I have students that I feel like I need to be understanding of their behavior, I am just worried that the inconsistency would thwart the effectiveness of my plan.


  12. Heather September 26, 2016 at 6:04 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I have a student that behaves in time-out, then behaves in class for a little while, then goes right back to calling out or walking around. Do I send her back to time-out? And a letter home? Sometimes I still have over an hour left of class by the time she has reached the third consequence.

    • Michael Linsin September 26, 2016 at 8:01 am #

      Hi Heather,

      Yes, the student would go back to time-out in addition to a letter home.


  13. Heather September 26, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

    Thanks so much! I am applying your rules and suggestions and they are working! The classroom is getting quieter and the kids are looking at me for permission before they do things. I’m so happy and almost relaxed now!

    • Michael Linsin September 27, 2016 at 8:05 am #

      Wonderful, Heather! Way to go.