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.

What do the experts say?

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.

Have you used time out to discipline?

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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