Timeouts: Yes or No?

Jess McGlynnJune 18, 2015

Made popular by parenting experts such as TV’s ‘Supernanny’ Jo Frost, it’s been the ‘go to’ parenting technique to deal with tantrums for some time now. However, many child behaviour experts now want us to call time on the timeout.

How do Timeouts Work?
The principle behind the timeout technique is that it provides a break in hostility between caregivers and children during those times when emotions have run so high that rational discussion and action have ceased to exist – the ‘meltdown’ that all parents dread. The child is isolated: put in a safe and quiet place where they are given a set time in which they must calm themselves and reflect on the behaviour that led to them being told off. 

When implemented correctly, both parent and child are able to level themselves off and re-engage when the emotional stress has subsided and they are able to re-establish communication in a civil and constructive way. When used incorrectly, the timeout itself can become a bone of contention, be used as a form of isolation punishment, and end up serving only as a little breathing space for the parent to take back control of their own emotional state.

The Problem with Timeouts
Although the timeout technique definitely seems to work, some child psychologists now believe that it is not, in fact, such a great way to discipline to children – mainly because the timeout doesn’t necessarily provide the opportunity for the child to examine and understand the cause of their behaviour, or ways that they can control their feelings in future. 

“Time-outs are an attempt to change the behaviour of the child, but don’t allow either parent or child to find out what caused the behaviour. So behaviour is changed in only very superficial ways, and the underlying problems are not addressed or resolved.” Pat Torngren

Research has shown that repeated exposure to emotionally traumatic experiences can have long term consequences on brain development, structure and function and that scans of children subjected to isolation as a form of punishment show the same brain patterns as those of children being subjected to physical punishment and violence. So, although obviously a far better option than smacking, or yelling, the timeout is still a punishment based discipline. As a result some now even consider that it may be a form of emotional abuse.

The Alternative: Positive Reinforcement
With advances in research into children’s psychological development, new theories and techniques have begun to surface that offer alternatives to punishment discipline. Having a better understanding of the causes of distress and emotional outbursts in kids has provided insight in to what is really going on in a child’s mind when they ‘play up’. Positive discipline techniques are built around offering sympathy and support instead of scolding and plunishment when emotions run high. The result, they say, is calm, relaxed and happy children.

You can find more interesting facts and parenting tips over on Sunny D’s website.

This is a collaborative post


  • Holly Hollyson

    June 25, 2015 at 11:20

    It is so tough. As a special needs teacher I have seen how timeouts can work in specific situations – eg when I child is over stimulated and needs total and utter silence and no interaction to calm down. Not a naughty step (I hate that word) or anything, but a white room with nothing in it.
    But as a punishment (another word I loathe) – no. I whole heartedly believe that if you need to punish your child in any way then you have lost control of both yourself and the situation. In the majority of situations discussion is what is needed and love to tend to hurt feelings and an understanding of the trigger for the behaviour so that a replacement behaviour can be offered.

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