It is important as parents that we learn to read our children. When they are babies we recognise their tired signs and hopefully we continue to do so. A tired child is very hard to handle and it is not fair to push them beyond their limits. The Bible very wisely warns parents against doing this. Never take a tired child shopping or out for dinner. You will be asking for trouble.
The idea of 'time out' can be used in a number of ways.
We can call 'time out' when we see our child's emotions escalating or tired signs developing. We can call it when we see a group of children starting to get ratty. At the first signs we should try to diffuse the situation, separate the children, give them quiet time or put on a DVD. Let them settle before resuming play together. This works very well with a child who is tired, especially after a long day at school. Parents need to be proactive in watching their children and learning to read them.
Another type of 'time out' is thinking or reflecting time. This is usually used after a child has misbehaved and needs time alone to think about what they have done and how it has affected others. Some people are happy to use a bedroom as that quiet space or a thinking chair or stair step. Use an some sort of timer and place it near the child so they know that their time out will end. It is usually recommended that they sit for one minute for each year of their age. The idea is for the child to think about their misbehaviour, how it has affected others and what they can do to restore the relationship. After the time is up, go to the child and ask them what they did wrong, why it was wrong, what they can do to make things better and encourage them to say a truly repentant " sorry" and "please forgive me." You then have a cuddle and the matter is forgotten unless the child needs to make restoration or do something else to patch up the relationship.
By asking "will you forgive me?" it puts the ball in the court of the offended person. The child cannot just say a mumbled "I'm sorry" but has to acknowledge that their actions have affected another person and they need to rebuild the relationship.
Some children refuse to go into time out so you can adapt it to a 'time in' where you stand behind the child and hold their arms across their chest facing the wall for the allotted time. The process then is the same after the timer has gone off.
Another style of time out is the 'fun to be with' rule. As long as you are fun to be with you can stay in the room with everyone but when you start to misbehave or be unkind then you are no longer fun to be with. You then have the choice of becoming fun to be with again or going to another place until you want to be fun to be with again.
Whichever style you use the focus is the same - reaching the heart of the child by helping them acknowledge their behaviour, the effect it has on their relationship with others and then empowering them to take control to change it.
Whenever any of these styles are used, or in fact any disciplinary parenting is used, please do not get angry. Enforce the consequence in a pleasant way without losing your self-control. That is why the earlier it is used, the better for everyone concerned.