Time to put Super Nanny on the naughty step

Oh, puuleeeze save me from the bloomin’ naughty step!

The naughty step is a technique adapted from a concept known as time out (which has been around nearly as long as me and believe me that’s a really long time!). The problem is it doesn’t really do the same thing.

Time out used properly is really effective both immediately and in the long term.

The naughty step however implies the child is naughty and that’s why they have to go on the naughty step. It is NEVER the child that is naughty, it is the behaviour that is unacceptable or ‘naughty’

And we need to be really careful that we make that clear for children

“I love you but I don’t like the way you throw your toys at me when I tell you its bedtime”

Time out works really well as a strategy for interrupting whatever behaviour is happening that needs to stop. It not only gives the child a break but it’s a bit of a breather for you too, once you’ve got it established.

The difference between time out and the naughty step is what happens afterwards. Just saying sorry and going back to what you were doing just pays lip service to the whole point of it. That is, we want to change behaviour using this technique but a throwaway ‘sorry’ doesn’t teach your children anything (except if you just say ‘sorry’ everything is OK)

Don’t get me wrong sorry has its place but it needs to be meaningful. Children need to understand what they are sorry for and why.

So time out itself needs boundaries and definition

The time out place should be somewhere quiet in the house, where there isn’t much traffic and you can’t see the TV even if you crick your neck at a 45 degree angle! The bottom of the stairs actually works really well in most homes.

The process is explained to the child BEFORE they need it. “When you do…. this will happen”. They will be asked to go to the naughty step for a prescribed time (I’ll come back to this in a minute) and sit quietly and for the older ones, taking time out to think about why they are there. Once they have completed the prescribed time you can both talk calmly about why they needed time out and what needs to happen next to put things right (for younger ones this may be just an instructed time playing or looking at a book)


If only it were, obviously that sounds straightforward but as with any routine it will take time, energy and perseverance to establish. You are highly likely to meet some resistance. Firstly you instruct them to do as you say and if they don’t, you assist them to the time out place calmly and firmly. You tell them how long they need to be there and that they need to be still and quiet. Also that once they have completed the time out, you will discuss what happened and what we do next.

This may take some time and have to be repeated.

Now, time spent. 2 – 3 minutes is optimal and has been seen to have the most effective results. However you need to be flexible here, not with the time you set that needs to be consistent but the age and abilities of the individual child need to be considered. Very young children don’t need as long and sometimes just to get established if we are having a big battle with this it’s OK to “catch them being good” ( see my article on punishment vs reward (link)) as soon as they do it properly even if its for a second to catch their breath, reinforce it

“OK, Fred you are doing this the way I asked you to, that’s good. Keep that up and you only have one minute to do”.

Finally, a word of warning. Don’t over use this. Low level behaviours can usually be managed with a calm approach. Explain what the problem is and what needs to be done. Save the big stuff for the big stuff if you see what I mean.

Good luck ☺