Proper use of time-outs in preschool

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-08-1999
Proper use of time-outs in preschool
Thu, 03-27-2003 - 2:57pm
Hi, I'm Soni. DD is 4 and in pre-k. Her school uses timeouts as a disciplinary measure, but I think they tend to rely on it too much. Here's what happened yesterday with dd; maybe I'm wrong, but I wanted to get other opinions before I persued this further.

DD is generally well-behaved in school; it's rare that I get a report that she got a timeout. She's also honest with me when she does get them; it's the first thing she tells me when I pick her up. Yesterday when I picked her up, she said she and her friend Allie got a timeout. When I asked her why, she said it was because they went to the bathroom together. That sounded odd, so when I dropped DD off this morning I talked to her teacher for clarification.

The teacher said my dd & her friend went to the bathroom together without telling her. She said she never saw them leave; all of a sudden she noticed that they were missing and was about to start looking for them when they returned from the bathroom. She put them both in a timeout for not requesting permission to go to the bathroom, and for going together. I can understand some sort of discipline for breaking a rule, in this case not asking the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom, but I couldn't understand why they'd be disciplined for going together. The teacher explained that two little girls in the bathroom together without adult supervision is unsafe and inappropriate. Huh??? Whatever the reason, I told the teacher that I felt a timeout for a relatively minor infraction was a bit extreme. She disagreed with me, and the director backed her up. It wasn't until I got to work later that it dawned on me that the teacher never noticed the girls were missing...she wasn't doing her job, was she? I intend to bring that matter up with her tomorrow.

In any case, was the teacher going too far in putting the girls in a timeout for not requesting permission to use the bathroom? What about going together? It can be potentially unsafe if they started horseplay, but how is it inappropriate? What do you think would have been a better alternative to a timeout?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-19-2003
Thu, 03-27-2003 - 7:05pm
I think the time out was perfectly fine. There are rules for a reason and teachers really have very little to use in the way of punishments anymore. It would bother me that she didn't see them leave, but again pre-schools and classrooms are often overcrowded. Is she the only adult supervising this class? If so maybe it's time to move her somewhere with more adult supervision per class.

I think it was fine to punish for leaving the room without permission and I understand the rule of them not going together too. It can lead to dilly dallying around, horseplay, getting into trouble, etc.

Her using the time out wouldn't have bothered me in the least, but that is totally my opinion. She's your child and you have every right to be upset by it. It doesn't sound like you are going to get anywhere complaining to the preschool so maybe it's time to look for another that uses better methods and has more supervision.

Good luck speaking to the teacher!


iVillage Member
Registered: 09-08-1999
Fri, 03-28-2003 - 12:16pm
I appreciate your feedback; thanks.

I looked over my post again to see how I may have misled you because your reply makes it sound as if I was upset and against punishing DD for an infraction of the rules. Let me clarify:

I agree that DD and her friend needed to be punished for breaking a rule. I also agree that two 4-year-old girls going to the bathroom together without adult supervision is potentially dangerous. I also agree with you that preschools don't have many alternatives to timeouts in terms of discipline.

However, I've also seen teachers and parents rely on timeouts too often, to the point that they lose their effectiveness. That's why I try to limit timeouts at home only to situations in which they will calm DD when she's out of control (as in hitting a friend because she's overstimulated, or when she's talking back to or dad or me). I didn't see any loss of control in this situation. It was simply a case of two friends who forgot to ask the teacher for permission to use the bathroom. It's possible the girls tried unsuccessfully to get their teacher's attention in order to ask for that permission. Certainly the teacher was too preoccupied to even notice their absence.

I wasn't upset or outraged about the timeout. In fact, I agreed with the teacher that the girls did have to be disciplined for breaking the rules. I just felt that there had to be better alternatives to a timeout. Do I have any ideas of what those alternatives are? Unfortunately I don't, which is why I asked other posters here for their feedback. If it turns out that timeouts are the best -- or only -- disciplinary action preschool teachers have at their disposal, then perhaps I have to rethink my disciplinary strategy at home to avoid "timeout burnout".

Since I posted yesterday, I learned that the school is adding another teacher to the staff to increase the child/adult ratio starting next week. Hopefully this will prevent another situation like this from happening again. I really have no desire to pull DD from this school; she's happy there, has a lot of friends and doesn't react well to change.

Thanks again for your input. It's why I posted my message.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-02-2003
Fri, 06-06-2003 - 2:48pm

I've been working in peschool/daycares for 17 years and I can tell you that using a timeout for going to the bathroom without asking is NOT right, UNLESS, your child does this ALL the time!! Also, how long was her timeout? It can not exceed her age!! So if she's four, her timeout is 4 minutes NO longer. State regulations state this fact. And they would prefer no timeout at all. The teacher should have sat her down, explained to her what she did was wrong and why. Also, how many children did the teacher have at this time? She should have seen the girls leave. If a teacher has not noticed a child leave this is considered a LOST child, which is not good for a daycare; However, being a preschool teacher myself, it does get very busy and you don't see EVERYTHING, but a child leaving, you should see. Talk to the teacher everytime about the timeouts your daughter gets. Keep track why and how often and go from there.