The best known and most generally accepted guideline for the duration of “Time-out” is one minute per year of age (e.g., 2 minutes for a 24-month-old; 2-½ minutes for a 2½-year-old). You may, instead, choose to use one minute per year of age, but begin the timer when your child is calm. Thus, a “2-minute” time out may take 20 minutes to complete if your child does not calm for the first 18 minutes! You may also choose to place your child in Time-out and then remove him when he discontinues his resistance for a few seconds, or when his crying changes from an “angry” cry to a “sad/remorseful” cry. Of course, children generally don’t trend from “angry” to “sad/remorseful” in a linear fashion, as they, instead, usually oscillate quickly back and forth between the two. So this approach can be a bit tricky and requires a “feel” for your child’s emotional state (rather than a black-and-white rule based on the clock).
You can see that there are indeed many options about the duration of “Time-out” for your child. As long as the duration remains reasonable, any of these options are likely to eventually result in a decrease of the negative behavior that you target. Of course, in addition to the question of “For how many minutes should I use Time-out?” we should address the question of “For how many months should I use Time-out?” As indicated earlier, behavior often takes longer to extinguish than it took to develop. Therefore, it is recommended that you view “Time-out” as a “way of life” that you will have in your “parenting toolbox” and use in various forms throughout your child’s childhood and adolescence.