Is time-out an appropriate discipline technique?

Many adults see time-out as a valuable non-violent method of disciplining misbehaving children. Although this is a common view, it is a misguided one.

Time-out can foster hostility, resentment, and even defiance in a child. Children’s behavior that adults consider “bad” is really evidence of some problem the child is experiencing. Instead of banishing the child to time-out, adults should look for the reasons behind children’s inappropriate behavior and use positive strategies to remedy problems.

Early childhood specialist Dr. Maxine Edwards Cornwell has the following to say about time-out:

Many caregivers use the time-out chair today as a non-violent method of disciplining misbehaving children. It has replaced the dunce cap in the corner and the nose in the circle on the blackboard as a generally accepted way of getting children to think about their behavior.

The fact is that the time-out chair is effective in buying some quiet time for a caregiver. That’s about all it does positively. Negatively, it makes children acutely aware of who the “bad kids” are (they’re always in The Chair). Children do not sit there and think about what they did or what they should have or should not have done. If they think about themselves at all, it’s with an “I’m bad; they don’t like me and I don’t like them either so there” attitude.

A better choice is removal from the scene of the battle to spend a few minutes with a caregiver who can lovingly discuss the problem with the child. This does not isolate children or label them “bad” but serves a better purpose—teaching children to get along with each other. We do not learn to get along with each other in the time-out chair.

If you have used time-out as a method of discipline, consider how effective this strategy has been. How often is the same child sent to time-out? Has time-out boosted children’s self-esteem? Made children more cooperative? Resulted in positive changes in children’s behavior? Chances are your answers to these questions do not support the continued use of this technique.

If you ever feel absolutely compelled to send a child to time-out, consider this a red flag. Find positive ways to help this child so that you will never have to resort to using time-out a second time for this child.

Ready to learn more about time-out? Many Care Courses discuss this topic at length. We recommend starting with First Steps in Child Care. This is an excellent introduction to child care and working with children.

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