by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
"Jillian, if you don't stop talking back to me, you're
going to sit in the time-out area until you learn to respect me!"
"You know that
when children in this family won't put their toys away they have to sit in
time-out. Is that what you want? If not, you better start putting those
toys away right now."
"Roberta, you're being naughty. Naughty girls have to sit in
this naughty chair until they learn their lesson. Go to the naughty chair
now. I'll tell you when it's time to get out."
"Anthony, the school
policy says that children can't push other children. You're on the wall
for pushing Carlos. Go sit by the wall with those other two over there.
You can watch the other children playing the way they're supposed to until
recess is over."
"Rita, you're supposed to be in time-out. Get back in that chair and
stay there quietly until your time is up. Now I have to reset the timer
because you left the time-out chair early."
Parents across the country are using
words such as these in an attempt to control a child's behavior with the
increasingly popular discipline technique of "time-out." Parents,
teachers, principals, daycare providers and even the Supernanny are using
time-outs as a technique to teach children to behave in a desired way. In
an attempt to correct a behavior, they're telling children to sit on
chairs in the middle of a classroom or on a bench outside the principal's
office, sending them to their bedroom, or making them sit on a "naughty
Adults use time-outs with the best of intentions. They want a
discipline technique that's an option to sarcasm, ridiculing, yelling, or
shaming. They prefer not to spank or use other forms of physical
punishment to control their children. So they opt for using a time- out.
They know it's important to hold children accountable for their behaviors,
and they use time-out as a consequence of the choice the child has
adults believe that placing a child in time-out will make him think about
what he did wrong and learn not to do it any more. They believe that the
child will stop hitting in frustration after having enough opportunities
to sit and think about hitting. They believe he will learn to pick up his
toys, stop throwing sand, and start using kind words because he sat in his
bedroom long enough to figure out why he was there.
One assumption made by
these parents and caregivers is that time-outs get children to behave the
way the adult wants. Another assumption is that because it appears to work
it's effective. But what if these "positive" outcomes aren't what they
appear to be at first glance? What if there are negative effects from
using time-out as it is being practiced today? What if it's actually
counterproductive to achieving the goal of raising responsible children?
Perhaps it's time to call time-out on time-out and examine it more
Consider: As it is often practiced, time-out is used for control. It
is used as a threat. "If you don't stop that, you'll go to time-out." It
is used to punish. "Okay, that's it. You go to your room." When you use
time-out in these ways you're teaching children that those with the power
have the right to control others. You're showing them that might makes
right and that the bigger gets to dominate the smaller.
being controlled by the threat of time-out may indeed change their
behavior. But when they do, the motivation to change is external. The
child hasn't been asked to think for herself or given the chance to
internalize the need for a new behavior. Nor has she been taught any new
behaviors. What she learns is to behave when the adult is near in fear of
punishment. But she doesn't behave when the adult is not present because
she hasn't learned to behave from the inside out. She is behaving only
from the outside in.
Consider: When time-out is used for punishment, it often creates
resentment and encourages revenge fantasies as children direct their anger
and blame at the parents. They scheme about how to get even rather than
contemplate alternatives to the behavior that got them the negative
consequence. These feelings serve to disconnect them from the family
rather than bring them closer.
Consider: Many parents make it understood that their
child is being sent to time-out because he or she has been naughty or bad.
When you send a child to a specific area because he was "naughty" and make
that clear to him, you send a message to the child that he is bad, that he is naughty. This use of
time-out attacks the character of the child. It wounds the spirit and
brands him as being that way.
It results in feelings of low self-esteem and creates core beliefs of "I
am wrong," "I am not worthy," and "I am naughty."
Consider: Time-out as it was originally
designed was an attempt to give children time to cool down. It was to
provide a safe space and time for a child to calm herself. Creating time
and space for a child to calm down so she can think is the first step
toward creating an internal standard, an inner authority that guides the
child's behavior. It is a move toward control from within rather than from
Consider: A time-out is something one takes or is given when one
needs a break from their surroundings. When an adult is overworked and
feeling stress from their job, they take a time-out. It's called a
When you're so angry that you can't think, you remove yourself from
the situation and come back later when you can think clearly. That's a
time-out. When you come home from work exhausted and sit down on an easy
chair for fifteen minutes, you're giving yourself a time-out.
A time-out is what we
need when we're sad and want to be alone. It's what we need when we're
hurt and don't know what to say. A time-out is what we need when we're
confused and don't know what to do. It is what we need when we're
frustrated and don't know what we want. A time-out is an internal rest
area where one goes to collect oneself, to reenergize and get ready to
address the problem at hand.
Consider: Children also need time to calm their minds
and relax their bodies when they're frustrated. They need a break from the
world around them when they are yelling or angry. Children need an
opportunity to get themselves ready to learn a new skill or face a
problem. They need time to get back into a solution-seeking,
Consider: A time-out is not to be used as the punishment piece of
a discipline technique. It is the time a child needs to get into the right
frame of mind so he or she can learn how to manage anger, curb aggression,
or use a different set of words to express disappointment.
Consider: A child will
only learn to manage his behavior when he is in the frame of mind that
allows him to do so. Managing behavior, comparing possible outcomes,
understanding consequences, choosing among options, and creating choices
take place in the area of the brain called the frontal lobe. When your
daughter is throwing a tantrum, she is not in her frontal lobe. Nor is
your son using his frontal lobe when he's yelling, "I hate you."
When your child
demonstrates physical behaviors such as hitting, kicking, biting, throwing
objects, stomping feet, and swinging arms, she is in tantrum mode. Such
behaviors are not generated in the cortex where the frontal lobe is
located. Yelling, screaming, crying, and other emotional behaviors are
generated in the limbic brain, which assists in managing emotional content
and is not typically a problem-solving area. It's important for parents,
educators, and daycare providers to recognize these behaviors and
understand that children are not in an appropriate mindset from which to
engage in learning a new skill, solving a problem, or understanding the
cause and effect relationship of the choices they have made.
Consider: To discipline
a child in the middle of a tantrum or during an emotional outburst serves
no useful purpose. The role of the adult at this time is to help the child
pass through the tantrum or emotional phase and move into a behavior
management and problem-solving mode.
The appropriate use of a time-out is to
provide the time and space a child needs to move into his frontal lobe and
thus into a mode of thinking conducive to learning how to manage behavior.
The time-out is not the learning phase. It is not when the teaching
occurs. Time-out is the getting-ready phase, the
recollecting-one's-thoughts-and-feelings phase. A time-out is provided for
a child to give her several minutes of solitude in a calming place,
allowing the brain to slowly shift into higher cortical thinking and
frontal lobe activation. When the child has made this transition, then and
only then is the process of holding her accountable and teaching her how to
do it differently next time appropriate.
Consider: As practiced across the country
today, the standard amount of time to be in time-out is correlated with the
age of the child. For a seven-year-old, the rule suggests the child should
sit in time-out for seven minutes. We disagree.
Some individuals move
into the behavior management and problem-solving mode of the brain faster
than others do. For some children it could require only seconds, while for
others it may take thirty minutes. Give your child whatever time he or she
needs to get ready. That is the most effective use of time-out.
parents allow children to return to the family group or resume their
activity after they have stayed in time-out for a specific amount of time.
Time-out used in this way becomes synonymous with "doing time." Once you've
served your sentence, you're free to go about your business.
Consider: If time-out
is indeed used as a gift of time and space, it is the time after time-out that becomes the
most important. This is when you follow up by teaching a needed lesson,
debriefing the previous scenario, and creating plans for next time. Use
the time after time-out to help your children learn to manage their
behavior through the guidance and instruction you give them. This will
help them develop a better understanding of the consequences of their
behavior. They will be more receptive to suggestions on how to correct
their behavior. They will feel more empowered and more confident in being
able to manage their behavior in the future. They will come to see
themselves as capable, responsible people.
If you want your child to see himself as
a responsible and successful person, to learn to get along with the group
(family), to build positive relationships with others, and to increase
feelings of connectedness with you, stop using time-out as a punishment.
Use it as a positive interruption of an undesirable behavior so the child
can calm himself and be receptive to the guidance, instruction, and
lessons in accountability that follow.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are
the authors of The 10 Commitments:
Parenting with Purpose. Thomas and Chick are two of the world's
foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children.
For more information about how they can help you or your group meet your
parenting needs, visit their websites today at www.thomashaller.com and www.chickmoorman.com.