Give "Time-Outs" the Boot!

12/23/2012

Mom-frustrated-yell
As a parent coach who specializes in helping parents of young children (aged 2-10), a frequently asked question is:  Is it okay for us to use time-outs with our children? 

 Let's take a look at time-outs, what I think about them, and why.  For our purposes, a classic time-out is forcing a child to sit on a step or mat, in a chair, or another designated spot for an amount of time chosen by the parent (typically, one minute per year of age of child).

Firstly, in the world of positive discipline, time-outs are simply not that popular.  Why?  Well, the thinking is that the parent is either trying to force a child into spot for an indiscretion that is developmentally normal, or the misbehavior is a cry for positive attention, not punishment.  Secondly, many parents believe that the child is learning to be “good” while she sits on the step.  Not so.  The child is usually feeling ashamed or is becoming angrier; but he is not learning how to behave.  Has the misbehavior stopped?  Yes, technically, but often there is a good deal of shame, blame, and general drama required to force the child into the time-out spot, and by the time the child sits down, everyone is angry and exhausted.  How can this be an effective way to parent?

Do I think time-outs are a "horrible and useless" thing?  Do I think that they are abusive?   Well, no.  I think that there is a very short window that the parent finds the time-out to be a useful tool...and that is the problem.  Somewhere between 18 months and 2.5, many parents will use time-outs to "teach" or stop misbehaviors and since the children are so young, they will often comply. 

But not for long.

Soon enough, the normal and spirited and growing child will start to fight back.  They will not go to the time-out spot or, as in the case of my oldest child; they will smack you and then walk themselves over to their spot, looking mightily smug and not the least bit remorseful.

 Parents start to become angrier and angrier, more locked into winning, and more invested in "teaching that kid a lesson."  This thinking, this anger, and this “need” to feel powerful is what grows more misbehaviors, especially as the child enters his late 3's and 4's. So, do I think you are hurting your child or family dynamic with time-outs? 

 My only question, for all parents, is: "Are the time-outs working?"

If the answer is "NO!" than give up the time-outs and see what happens!  You may be surprised to see that the behaviors does not get worse.

 More on Parenting:

6 Ways to Keep the Flu Away from Your Family

Get a Handle on Homework Hassles

5 Ways to Have Better Playdates


A mother of three young children and a parent coach, Meghan Leahy teaches parenting techniques to both individuals and groups in the Washington D.C. area, as well as all over the country. Meghan is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post parenting blog "On Parenting." To find out more, please visit Positively Parenting.
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