shy child

Defining behavioral science: Time out

Time out is probably the most often used behavior modification technique, which is great because it is effective and it is proven to work, but it is also just as often done wrong and people wonder why they don’t get results.

Time out is not just putting someone in a place–like a room, or in the case of the video clip below–a box, and hoping they will learn their lesson. Time out is removal from reinforcement, which is removal from access to stuff that is usually rewarding. If access is still available to good stuff—like all the toys in a child’s room—time out will not work.

There is no time out without time in. In other words, time out means nothing if you aren’t missing out on something good during the time out period.

Let’s watch the clip again.

Chandler is definitely in the box–supposedly time out– and he is separated from lots of good things like the football score and the food. But he is still getting attention—and lots of it—and he loves that, so he’s not really experiencing time out. It’s not until he gets zero attention and has no reinforcement does time out truly begin. 


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