If you use time-outs as a punishment technique for your child’s bad behavior, then you are not alone. It is a highly popularized “convenience parenting” technique, and appears to work well in the short term. If you watch any American TV, then you’ll see this concept promoted by “SuperNanny” or “Jon and Kate Plus 8″. The reality is that using time-outs can be harmful not only to you and your child’s relationship, but also to their personal development, self-esteem, and their ability to generally think for themselves. It separates the behaviour from the moment, treats only the symptoms and not the root cause, and puts your relationship in the back seat. Leading child development psychologists agree that the last thing you want to do is separate yourself and your child during times of conflict.

1. Relationship Is Being Ignored

When you separate yourself and your child, you are instantly demonstrating to them that your relationship is not important. When your child is misbehaving is when they need you the most, and your relationship with them is vital. You need to listen and empathize and bring them close to tell them that you still love them, but want to understand what they are feeling. Children will open up very quickly and explain the root cause of their actions when they feel loved, and secure with their parents.

By listening and asking them about what their intention was when they hit their sister, they will then be able to explain that they really were upset because no-one was paying attention to them, and it had really nothing to do with their sister at all. Having a solid relationship with your kids and bringing them closer (not separating them to another room) allows you to get to the root cause of behaviours, and work on solutions vs discipline.

2. Time-outs Appear To Work

The reason that timeouts are so popular with parents is that they actually do appear to work in the short run. When a child is told to go to a time-out, and sent away to their bedroom or a quiet area, they do in fact often temporarily stop the behaviour that you were discouraging. The problem is that, most children, younger ones especially, live in the moment, are impulsive and will often forget what the purpose of a time-out was soon after they start one. You are disconnecting them from the behaviour you are looking to discourage.

For children under age 4 to 5 years old, did you know that they don’t understand consequence at all? Their brains simply aren’t yet developed enough to understand cause and effect – so any kind of discipline similar to time-outs is being completely lost of them! Their left and right brains up to the age of 4 to 5 years old are essentially operating independantly. They are unable to think logically, and with compassion or empathy. They are almost primarily governed by impulse and emotions and will act selfishly when playing with others. Concepts such as sharing are foreign to them, though they may mimick or parrot this kind of behaviour back to you if driven home repeatedly.

3. Easy For Parents

Time-outs are a part of a “convenience parenting” movement which puts priority on the ease and speed of discipline, rather than it’s effectiveness at getting to the root cause of the behaviour. Often parents are the ones who need a time-out to settle down and compose themselves when they are with their children, but with busy work schedules, many athletic activities etc.. they feel their is no time to deal with their kids. Attachment parenting advocates will tell you that times of misbehaviour can be opportunities for connecting and really listening to your kids. It’s rare that a behaviour such as yelling, hitting or throwing food is what it appears to be on the surface. By sitting down, empathizing, and listening to your child, they will soon tell you what is really the matter. This does take time, however, and can not be rushed.

4. Treats Only the Symptoms

Time-outs are really only band-aid solutions for more deep seated issues. If you are trying to punish aggressive behaviour or hitting with a time-out, you are really not getting a chance to understand the root cause of this symptomatic behaviour. By connecting with your child, sitting down and hearing them out, you will get to understand the real intention behind their actions. Empathy and compassion is key. Child Development Psychologists such as Gordon Neufeld and others agree that you must “connect, then direct” so that they will ultimately respect you and listen to you.

Extreme punishment, such as spanking or grounding for six months, teaches kids you should treat yourself harshly when you do something wrong.  This offers little instruction on what to do when similar difficulties again arise. Kids then grow up to be harshly self-critical, which saps energy and motivation levels, and can undermine their quality of life. Alternatively, compassionate discipline starts by understanding the child’s point of view and then helping the child change harmful behaviors. The goal is to build habits and social skills that will serve the child well in the long run. For example, if a child hurts his friend’s feelings, he should feel bad about it, reflect upon the pain he has caused and think about ways to avoid such behavior in the future.

5. Child Is Not Empowered

When you tell a child what to do using discipline, you are ultimately calling into question their self-esteem. By telling a child what to do, you are discouraging them from thinking for themselves and developing decision making characteristics and self-worth. By “punishing” them with 5 minutes of silence and isolation, they are now going to continue to look to you, the parent, for direction anytime a tough situation arises, rather than think for themselves. They are disempowered from making their own decisions, and are disconnected from the behaviour that you are trying to discourage. Sure, you will need to let them simmer down from a tantrum or tears before discussing the issues they are having. For older children, they will harbour a resentment towards controlling, aggressive or angry parents that don’t let them think for themselves. Excessive use of discipline and separation technique such as time-outs will often result in teenagers who become disconnected, withdrawn to the point where they will eventually “rebel” away from any kind of connection with their parents. The key is to keep the dialogue going, and always work on your relationship.

What Experts Say

Dr. Gabor Mate M.D. on why he is against time-outs.

Bottom Line

Time-outs are a band-aid solution to what is perceived as a behavioural issue. To equip your child with a mature emotional disposition, let go of your anger and hear-them-out.  I highly recommend this article written by Aletha Solter, PhD, who is a developmental psychologist, international speaker, and consultant.  See her article here: awareparenting.com.

Written By: Chris Charlwood