Toy Timeouts: A Parenting Hack that Really Works

What is a toy timeout? I'm so glad you asked. Toy timeouts are one of my FAVORITE parenting tricks.

Toy timeouts are one of my FAVORITE parenting tricks.

Have you ever heard of a toy timeout? Toy timeouts are one of my FAVORITE parenting tricks, and I’m SO EXCITED to share with you today.

So, what are toy timeouts? I’m so glad you asked.

A toy time out in our house is just what it sounds like – a toy or set of toys gets put in a special place where kids can’t reach them, for a specific amount of time. In our house, toys go to the top shelf of my bedroom closet.

We use toy timeouts instead of kid timeouts for many situations. When a toy is being used inappropriately it’s often more effective to take the toy away and put it in time out for a while rather than putting the child in time out.

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There are several reasons for toy timeouts, but here are some of the most common:

  • If it’s a toy that they are fighting over and aren’t willing to share nicely or take turns.
  • If the toy is being used inappropriately – for example using markers on the walls, or craft scissors to cut hair.
  • When special toys aren’t being taken care of – like shoving a keepsake doll in the toy box rather than putting her away nicely on the shelf where she belongs.

How long do toys stay in time out?

This totally depends on the situation. If it’s in time out because of being fought over, it might be there for an hour or until the next day.

When toys are used or cared for inappropriately, they usually get a longer stint on the time out shelf. For example, in our house the rule is that the kid scissors in their art bin are ONLY for cutting paper. So when I found a fist size hole hacked into a pillow case – ALL of the art bin scissors went into time out for a week.

Related: 100+ Things To Do Instead of Screen Time

Why give the toy a time out rather than the kid?

Because it helps put the focus on the right thing!

You see, as much as I believe there is a time and place for kid timeouts, sometimes they just don’t help as much as we’d like them to.

Like when kids are fighting over a toy. It’s a natural response for a child to want the toy to themselves – to not share. And for kids who are still learning and not emotionally mature yet, getting a timeout for fighting over a toy feels so unjust. It’s like they are being punished for a normal human response.

But for some reason, when the TOY goes into timeout, it diffuses the whole conflict. (Well, usually). And after the emotions cool, it is way easier to talk about how to play kindly, take turns, etc. There’s much less blame going around too – after all, it really was the toy that got in trouble, not the kid.

That’s why it works so well for using toys inappropriately too. In my experience, this is mostly caused by impulsiveness, or acting out due to another issue. In those situations, a toy timeout is simply a natural consequence for their choice, there’s no shame or blame involved.

Are toy time outs your only parenting tool?

Of course not! But they can be a fantastic and effective addition to your parenting toolbox. They have certainly worked for us.

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What is a toy timeout? I'm so glad you asked. Toy timeouts are one of my FAVORITE parenting tricks.

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