A controversial topic these days, I know. But I really want to write a super straightforward and research-backed article to help ease parents’ concerns around discipline, and if using time-outs are going to somehow psychologically damage your child.
The straight answer is no. There is absolutely NO correlation between time-outs and a withdrawn or emotionally damaged child. In fact, in all the research articles I found, they literally could not find a single lasting negative effect from a child being put in a time-out. (I’ll link some of these at the end). I see so much fear-mongering about time-outs on parent groups and in articles that I really really searched to find something (and by something I mean researched, studied, and peer-reviewed) to show me why they are bad – and I came up completely empty-handed. The only articles I found saying negative things about time-outs had absolutely no scientific or studied backing and were often pushing a course or book or coaching services. Why then are we told, or guilted, into not using time-outs? This screen-shot from one parenting group is a prime example:
Another is this Time article titled “Time-outs are hurting your child”, and the irony of this article is that much of what was written here, the authors later retracted in this article titled “You said what about time-outs?”.
Posts like these create a fear or guilt response in parents, and don’t actually provide any information, insight or are taken completely out of context. In those previously mentioned articles, they were punting a book called “No-Drama Discipline” which is the follow on from a great book called “The whole brain child”. These are great books and can be super helpful to parents, but simply taking one idea – that time-outs are not good – out of a 400-page book and completely out of context is helping no one.
So hopefully, so far I’ve convinced you – time-outs aren’t all evil. I will say, however, like any discipline strategy, it does have the potential to be misused. Obviously, time-outs are not meant to be used as an excuse to lock up your child for ages because they are bothering you. I will also say that if used correctly, they can work great. But I find that for a lot of kids, it doesn’t take long for time-outs to become completely ineffective and we should be basing our discipline strategies on the personality of our children as well as on the situation.
If a child is having an emotional breakdown or outburst (especially when they are tired or distressed) we absolutely won’t place that child in time-out. However, if my child just hit his brother again after a firm warning, removing him from the situation is an appropriate action.
Also, if a child is more sensitive, nervous, shy, or timid – a time-out may be completely unnecessary and hurtful. And on the flip side, a child who is overt and aggressive may find time-outs to be a laugh-a-minute.
It is up to us as parents to remain calm and assess and know our children and the situation enough to understand how best to deal with it. I hope though that this however eases your worries if you feel like using time-out was off the table when it comes to discipline.
There are definitely right ways and wrong ways to do time-outs which I will be discussing in another article very soon.
What have been your experiences or what are your thoughts surrounding time-outs? I’d love you to share in the comments below!
Here are some papers and articles discussing the effects of time-outs on children: