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Time-Out Ribbon

The time-out ribbon is a form of non-exclusionary time-out that requires pairing reinforcement with an object (e.g. a ribbon on the child’s wrist) that would not naturally lead to reinforcement.

What is a Time-Out Ribbon?

The time-out ribbon is a form of non-exclusionary time-out that requires pairing reinforcement with an object (e.g. a ribbon on the child’s wrist) that would not naturally lead to reinforcement (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Although the procedure is called a time-out “ribbon”, the object that becomes paired with reinforcement does not have to be a ribbon. It could be a wrist-band, a tie or a button, among other things.

This procedure is a form of non-exclusionary time-out because the child would lose access to reinforcers but would remain within the reinforcing environment.

How Does the Time-Out Ribbon Work?

The ribbon becomes paired with reinforcement and the students learn that they cannot and will not receive any form of reinforcement unless they are wearing their ribbon. This makes removal of the ribbon aversive as the child can no longer receive reinforcement (Foxx & Shapiro, 1978).

The time-out is in place when a student engages in an inappropriate behaviour and the teacher removes their ribbon for a pre-specified period of time. As the child now has no ribbon it means they will receive no reinforcement; this is a non-exclusionary time-out because the child would remain within the classroom.

Showing how wearing the timeout ribbon leads to reinforcement while not wearing it means no reinforcement for the child.
An example of the time-out ribbon using a wristband.

Success with the Time-Out Ribbon

The ribbon must first be established as a requirement for reinforcement if this procedure is to be successful. While initially pairing reinforcement with the ribbon, liberal amounts of reinforcement must be used in order for the students to associate the object with reinforcement.

As stated by Foxx and Shapiro (1978, p. 127) ‘the success of the timeout ribbon procedure would depend, as it should, on first associating the ribbon with socially mediated reinforcers and activities’.

Advantages of a Time-Out Ribbon Procedure

  • The procedure can target various different behaviours with various different children all within one classroom.
  • As the child remains within the reinforcing classroom even though they are in time-out, they are more likely to observe their peers modelling behaviours that do not lead to time-out and learn to engage in the same behaviours.
  • Remaining within the classroom also ensures the child in time-out does not lose out on learning opportunities or educational activities.
  • The ribbons also do not run out therefore every student who misbehaves can be timed out.
  • Reinforcement from peers while a child is in time-out (called bootleg reinforcement) can be eliminated by removing the ribbons of those offering the attention.
  • Everyone within a school can be informed of this procedure. Therefore, if a staff member visits a classroom it will be obvious a student does not have their ribbon and therefore should not be provided with any reinforcement. This reduces the chance of a visitor inadvertently reinforcing a child while in time-out (Foxx & Shapiro, 1978).
  • The student/s can always wear the ribbon and therefore the procedure can be implemented in a number of settings (classes, home, school, residential etc.). This also allows parents to continue to implement the procedure at home.


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