Time–out was originally recommended as a better alternative to spanking kids when parents needed to discipline them. The idea behind this kind of punishment was that the child would not enjoy being in time-out and would, therefore, soon learn not to repeat the bad behavior. In actual fact this is not true.
Fast forward to 2014. Amazing brain research reveals new information that is changing and reinventing the definition of good parenting skills. In the light of the latest brain research results, time-out is not a good idea. Here’s why.
Time-out can make kids feel unsafe.
To be able to learn from an experience, feel good and behave positively, children need to feel emotionally safe. Time-out can make kids feel unsafe and insecure because it separates them from the parent physically and emotionally. This distresses children immensely and can evoke feelings of insecurity.
Being sent off for time-out could be felt by the child as a sign that Mom or Dad has withdrawn from them. The child may feel disconnected from the parent-child attachment and bond that is so vitally important to their sense of self and well-being. Also, although usually unintended, the message the child may hear is, ‘I don’t like you. Go away from me.’ This can sometimes lead the brain to actually reverse the attachment instincts. Now the child begins to resist contact and closeness and shouts, ‘go away, don’t touch me, I don’t like you.’ This injures the parent-child relationship.
Time-out can increase anxiety in children.
Separation-based discipline is a wounding experience for a child. It can create very strong emotions of anxiety, not only during the time-out event but this anxiety can begin to extend to other situations too. The child may promise never to do it again but this is coming from stress and anxiety, not from real learning.
Time out can build frustration.
The stress of the time-out can put the child’s system into fight (as opposed to flight). Kids may feel high levels of frustration, which can then trigger aggression and may even cause general problems with hostility and anger.
Time-out stirs kids up it does not calm them down.
The negative emotions caused by time-out stimulate stress hormones. The more stress there is, the greater the chance of important areas of the child’s brain not developing. When kids are stressed by time-out they are in survival mode and it is more difficult for them to engage in higher order thinking. So the positive effect you are hoping for, is the very response you are unlikely to get.
What to do instead of time-out.
Instead of stimulating stress and anxiety hormones in the child, you want to stimulate oxytocin, the bonding hormone that helps create a sense of safety and well-being so that they can make good choices about their behavior. When kids experience compassion, instead of rejection, oxytocin is secreted. When your child’s behavior calls for disciplinary action:
- Begin by letting them know that you love them dearly. The message you want them to hear is that your relationship with them will never change – you will always love them. It is just this particular behavior that you are unhappy about.
- Adjust your own chemistry. The best way to do this is to let yourself think about the goodness and wholeness of your child that you know is behind this mask of fight or flight. Let yourself remember that they are more than their bad behavior.
- Tell the child that you know that there is a great kid inside (use the relevant word that is the opposite of the behavior they are displaying – if they are unkind, uncaring, rude, aggressive, silly – you will tell them that you know there is a kind, caring, well-mannered, calm, or smart child inside. Tell them that they can choose to be that child because that would be the smart thing to do. I expect that in most instances the child will not choose to do this. However, they will remember the message that you believe in their goodness.
- Then, if the bad behavior continues, as I suspect it might, apply the skills of effective discipline as outlined in my blog – The How, Why and What of Effective Discipline.
The issue of time-out is a contentious one and there are many different opinions. What do you think?