The Naughty Step - what is it and how does it work?

Staying calm and in control while your child learns their boundaries is key - but you've got to be consistent! The Naughty Step was used to great effect on the Supernanny TV show. Here we take a look at how it works, and how some parents made it work for them


If you’re exasperated by your child’s behaviour, set out some clear House Rules and try putting them into force using the Naughty Step technique. This is one way of giving your child time out, giving everyone a chance to calm down and allowing your child a moment to think over what they did wrong.

How it works

  • When your child misbehaves or breaks one of the House Rules, explain what they've done wrong, tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable, and warn them that if they behave in the same way again, they’ll be put on the Naughty Step. Make sure your voice remains calm, not angry, and use a low, authoritative tone. 
  • Is there a particular toy or something triggering the situation which you could calmly remove? Or is your child tired or hungry? Before using the Naughty Step, see if you can help resolve your child's frustration and move them on to another activity, or use the Involvement Technique to diffuse the situation. 
  • If they misbehave again, immediately put them on the Naughty Step. Explain clearly why they are there and how long they must stay there (one minute per year of their age). 
  • If they come off the Naughty Step, put them back on using gentle but firm movements and keep putting them back onto the step until they realise that you’re committed to keeping them there for the agreed set time. 
  • Once your child has completed the agreed set time on the Naughty Step, crouch down so you’re on the same level, use a low and authoritative tone of voice, and explain why you put them there. Ask them to apologise, and when they do, praise them warmly with a kiss and a cuddle. Say ‘thank you’, go back to what you were doing and forget about the incident. 
  • If your child refuses to apologise (or does something like shouts ‘sorry’ in a way which makes you think they probably don't mean it!), continue this technique until they realise that you need a proper apology. But don’t forget the kiss and cuddle at the end!

Time Out for older children

Older children will outgrow the Naughty Step, so try to cultivate in them a sense of responsibility for their actions by creating a reflection room or chill-out zone. They can be asked to go there when they’re angry to give them time and physical space to think things over.

If behaviour is really out of control, if the Naughty Step has become more of an attention-seeking ploy, or if older children do something they really shouldn’t have done, think about some kind of toy confiscation punishment. Once disciplined, however, it is especially important to find out why your child behaved in a way which was out of character, as understanding their actions will help you to prevent it occurring again.

Don't forget the reward

Troubleshooting behavioural issues using the Naughty Step works best when you also make a fuss of what your child does right. Parent positively, and use a Reward Chart to reinforce spontaneous and continual good behaviour in your child.

How does the naughty step work in real life?

Many stories we've received from parents show how this method of Time Out has transformed children’s behaviour and given exhausted parents a strategy for household peace.

Nevertheless, every child (and every parent) is different, and we did come across some recurring issues with the Naughty Step technique, which we've addressed here.

He never learns! I put him on the Naughty Step, but he repeats the same behaviour the next day! Consistency is the key to successful discipline. However, when you discipline a toddler, he is statistically quite likely to repeat his bad behaviour within two hours, and even more likely to do the same thing again that day.

The Naughty Step is more likely to work if all his carers are using this technique and have agreed on House Rules and consequences.

Always remain consistent. If he knows that you’ll give up after 10 minutes of tantrums, he will continue to scream. You may have to put your child on the Naughty Step ten times in half an hour, but eventually he will realise you are serious and stay put.

Remember, your role is to teach that behaviour which you have agreed is bad has real consequences. It gives your child the opportunity to think about his actions, to know the importance of saying sorry and for you both to learn how to move on.

She refuses to cooperate and jumps off the Naughty Step after a few seconds of Time Out! Stay firm. If your child always jumps off the Naughty Step, continue to put her back, gently but firmly, until she stays for the agreed time – one minute for each year of her age.

The idea of a particular spot, like the Naughty Step, where a child is put for time out is that it should be in a calm place with no distractions. This gives her time to think about what has happened without parents or brothers and sisters bothering her.

Children need an audience for their bad behaviour. If you simply ignore their tantrums, and remain consistent, they will eventually accept the punishment.

My child is nearly six. Is he too old for the Naughty Step? Every child is different, but for most children, the Naughty Step will continue to be an effective form of time out until the child is about 7 years old. After this age, you could try using an area of the house where they go as more of a ‘chill out zone’, to calm down and then discuss the issue properly. This shows your child you’re giving him space to mature and deal with his feelings as an adult.

What age can I start using the Naughty Step? From about the age of three, start trying the Naughty Step technique in conjunction with two or three simple House Rules (for example, ‘no biting’, ‘no hitting’). A Naughty Mat is better for the under threes than a step, and it can also be moved around the house, allowing you to keep an eye on your child during timeout.

For very young children, try involving them in an activity or distracting them from what’s going on. Anticipate a problem developing, and simply move them into another room, out of the house or engage them in a new activity.

My child enjoys the Naughty Step, and even goes to sit there on his own! This is a tricky, but surprisingly common dilemma. Your child is probably testing boundaries, to see how far he can push you.

The key is to remain firm. If he wants to sit on the Naughty Step, let him! But when he’s put on there as a reprimand, make sure he doesn’t get any attention for the designated time period.

If he moves away, put him back and re-start the timer. He may like it the first time, but he won’t enjoy being ignored by Mum and Dad for the tenth or twentieth time.

You should also ensure the Naughty Step is located in a quiet place, away from the television, family distractions and toys. If one spot isn’t working, choose a different spot in the house. Sitting in the most boring corner of the house is likely to take away their enjoyment very rapidly.


Consistency, consistency… Every new rule or discipline technique is difficult at first. Just stay calm, be consistent and remain firm and it will get easier... eventually!


Related links

  • Supernanny Naughty Step - Tried and Tested: We asked four families to try the new Supernanny Naughty Step. Here's what they thought...
  • TV Clip - Naughty Step: Billy was so badly behaved, his parents were sceptical that this discipline technique would work at all. But, within no time, Billy learns to sit on the step for the full two minutes.
  • One Strike and You're Out: As your children get older, how do you teach them what’s acceptable and what’s not? As used on Supernanny, ‘One-Strike-And-You’re-Out’ is a useful technique’ to discipline older children when they push thing too far...
  • The Naughty Mat: If you're out and about, or if your child is just too young to sit in a chair, the naughty mat might be just the thing to maintain a consistent approach to discipline...
  • House Rules: In the Supernanny show, families use house rules to set out what behaviour is acceptable in their household, and what behaviour is not…
  • The Reward Chart: Positive attention and praise are the most effective rewards for good behaviour, and the Reward Chart is a useful way to reinforce good behaviour on the spot.
  • Superstars Reward Charts: Saying ‘Well done’ to your child is the very best way to promote good behaviour. Download for free one of Supernanny’s ready-made Reward Charts.
  • The Involvement Technique: Getting your children involved with chores and shopping trips can make all the difference to how much they (and you!) enjoy them.
  • Calming your kids: how do you tame a wild child? Parents frustrated wih bad behaviour may find these tips useful.
  • Boy vs Girl - discipline differences: Whether you favour a nature or nurture philosophy when it comes to raising your kids, there’s little doubt that boys and girls are different – and you can use those differences to your advantage when it comes to bad behaviour.

Related Advice