From spanking to Positive Parenting, it seems that there are as many discipline techniques as there are families. Child development experts, parents, grandparents and strangers at the grocery store all have an idea of what the “right way” is. Now, scientists are chiming in, too.
This recent article on Time.com suggests that the popular discipline technique “Time Out” is bad for kids.
What Is Time Out Exactly?
Time Out is a discipline tactic widely used by parents and teachers in the U.S. It is based on the idea that if a child is isolated for a short time after misbehaving, the child will stop unwanted behaviors. Grownups use Time Out when kids do something against the rules, aren’t following directions or have intense emotional outbursts.
Kids in Time Out are expected to calm themselves, reflect on their actions and prepare to rejoin family and friends ready to behave. Time to reflect, calm down and learn how to follow the rules… Sounds good, right? According to new brain research, it may not be so great after all.
The article I mentioned above states that children who are isolated in Time Out display brain activity similar to children who are in physical pain. The author goes on to say that Time Out leaves kids feeling resentful and robs them of the opportunity to build self-regulation and social skills.
So, does this mean that kids on Time Out are experiencing pain? That it’s just as bad as physical abuse? Common sense tells us that this isn’t the case. What we can bring away from this study is that kids in Time Out experience powerful, negative feelings.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling strong, negative emotions it’s hard for me to think logically about how to make things better. First, I need to calm down, perhaps by doing something relaxing like taking a walk. Maybe I’ll even chat with a friend.
Being forced to sit alone with a time limit on how soon I must feel better would only make things worse. I can see how kids could end up feeling resentful after being put in this situation.
But Time Out Works!
It’s true. In some situations, Time Out can end an unwanted behavior. A child may gain control, agree to follow the rules and even avoid a behavior in the future because she doesn’t want a Time Out.
This may work in the short term, but what about the big picture? What will she do when there is no grown up around to put her on Time Out? Is she building the skills necessary to keep her safe when she is on their own?
One of my favorite Early Childhood Education teachers said that when she’s working with kids she tries to teach herself out of a job. In other words, rather than giving Time Outs or other punishments, she focuses on teaching kids why certain behaviors aren’t safe or appropriate.
When kids really grasp the “why” of a rule, they are more likely to be safe and behave in a socially acceptable way without a grownup needing to intervene.
Wait, no punishments? Does this mean the kids “get away” with misbehaving?
There are some behaviors that us adults simply can not allow. How we choose to stop those behaviors, however, can be more (or less) effective in the long run.
Alternatives to Time Out
So, what can we do to stop unwanted behaviors and support long term learning?
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing 5 different alternatives to Time Out with you in hopes of adding to your parental toolbox.
I’ve used all of the techniques successfully with my daycare kids. I’ll continue using them with Baby B because I also want to work myself “out of a job.” I want to know that when I’m not around, Baby B will (eventually) know how to be successful and safe, whether or not I’m there to give him a Time Out.
Next time we’ll go over the first alternative to Time Out: Natural Consequences.Please share!