Timeout position paper: A synopsis

In 2009 the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc. (AAIMHI) published the time out position paper, which arose from the AAIMHI’s concern at the use of time out by some parents and others caring for children in the community.

The paper refers in particular to the use of time out with children in the first three years, but many of the issues raised are also relevant to older children.


The AAIMHI aims, in part, to improve professional and public recognition that infancy is a critical period in psycho-social development; and work for the improvement of the mental health and development of all infants and families. The AAIMHI describes time out as ‘time away from a rewarding or positive environment as a consequence of some form of misbehaviour, usually for one to five minutes.’ According to this definition of time out, the child is also removed from the presence of, and/or interaction with, the parent or carer.


While there is research that supports using time out to control behaviour, especially for older children, this research does not address the emotional impact on the child. Developmentally, children less than three years cannot be expected to easily self-regulate their emotions. Therefore they need the presence of a caregiver to assist them with this process, rather than being separated from the caregiver. Children under three years may not have the developmental capacity to remember the connection between their behaviour and the response of the caregiver, especially if there is any time delay.

The AAIMHI’s position on responding to children’s behavior is informed by an attachment theory model of relationships. The use of time out with children under three years is inappropriate. The use of time out with children over three years needs to be carefully considered in relation to the individual child’s experience and needs.


AAIMHI concerns in relation to time out for children less than three years are:

  • it does not teach constructive ways to deal with problems; instead it teaches separation as a way to deal with problems
  • it does not consider the developmental capacities of young children under three
  • it deliberately cuts off the child from the relationship with parent or carer so that the child feels powerless to connect with the adult
  • it does not address the cause behind the behaviour
  • it fails to recognise that young children do not learn emotional self-regulation by themselves; they need the support of a parent or carer. Reinsberg (1999) lists five points to consider in responding to a child:
  • Is this a developmental stage?
  • Is this an individual or temperamental difference?
  • Is the environment causing the behaviour?
  • Does the child not know something but is ready to learn?
  • Does the child have unmet emotional needs?


The complete position paper on time out can be downloaded from the AAIMHI website. It contains in-depth information and practical suggestions for parents and caregivers. This position paper would support all those reviewing centre policies and questioning their beliefs, values and day-to-day practices with regard to time out and children’s behaviour. The paper is well referenced for further reading.

Judy Radich
Cooloon Children’s Centre Inc.


Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc.(2009). Position paper 3: Time out. www.aaimhi.org/documents/position%20papers/Position%20Paper%203.pdf.

Reinsberg, J. (1999). Understanding young children’s behavior. Young Children, 54(4), 54-57. In Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc.(2009), Position paper 3: Time out.

Timeout position paper: A synopsis by Judy Radich was featured in Every Child Vol. 16 No. 2—Wellbeing. Click here to purchase your copy today!