Time Out Backlash

Is time out emotionally harmful to children?


My toddler recently reached the "terrible two's" stage. That means that at any given moment, he could potentially bite, kick, scream, or throw an epic temper tantrum. We can't very well have a 36 inch tyrant running the show around our house, so it's obvious that it's time to enforce some form of discipline on our adorable yet unruly child.

Since we decided long ago that we would not our children or use fear tactics in our parenting, we settled on using "time outs" as punishment for tyrant-like behavior. It's a simple plan, made popular by the show Supernanny, in which a child is removed from the situation, placed in isolation, and given time to think about what he or she did wrong. The rule of thumb tends to be that the child remains there one minute per year of age.

We've added the additional step of offering a big hug when he is released from the "naughty chair" and then having a discussion about what positive behavior we expect to see in the future. So far, it's worked out great, and we are seeing changes in our little guy's attitude.

So, I was taken of guard when I read an article recently on the Natural Parents Network that highlighted the disadvantages of time outs. According to the article, parents who enforce a time out are actually bullying their child, and it's an ineffective way to discipline children.

"Most children will go through multiple emotions – fear that they are not loved because of their behavior; anger at the situation and the person responsible for sending them to time-out or at the other person involved in the original situation; blame, anxiety or confusion if the child doesn’t understand what is going on. They learn that by bullying someone holding less power than you, you can get your own way."

The post delves even deeper into this theory by linking to Aletha Solter's article that was published by the Aware Parenting Instute. Solter takes the perspective a step farther and claims that time outs are actually an emotionally harmful way to discipline children, and that that there are hidden problems with the technique.

She believes that children may learn to suppress their feelings and that teaching children to conform to our wishes does not resolve the deeper issues. She argues that children are most in need of loving attention when they are least deserving of it. She even challenges parents to not use any form of punishment on their children but instead to have an open dialogue with the child about his or her behavior.

It is not necessary to isolate children and withdraw our love to teach them how to "behave." In fact, it is entirely possible to help children learn to be cooperative and decent members of society without ever issuing punishments, rewards, or artificial consequences of any kind.

Although I am intrigued by this concept, I'm not sure I agree a time out is emotionally harmful to a child. Especially if it is enforced with guidance and understanding.

I also question the message I would send if I were to take a moment to single my toddler out, sit him in my lap, and have an in-depth conversation with him about what he did wrong in the midst of a two-year old fit. Would it teach him that he will get my undivided attention when he misbehaves?

Sometimes, when their little hands are swinging and the tears are freely falling, a little space to calm down can be healthy for a child. We are always close by with loving arms and open discussions. We just offer that support after the time out is over.

Do you use time out as a from of discilpline? Do you believe that it is emotionally damaging to children? If not, what form of discipline works for you? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Leigh Hewett March 01, 2012 at 08:57 PM
We use redirection often with my oldest and charts as well. He really responds to it.
Leigh Hewett March 01, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I'd like to add that we make it a point to celebrate positive behaviour when we see it happen. I like to really single out when I see my kids sharing or getting along. I just shower them with praise and tell them why it's a good choice and point out how much nicer it is for our family when we do those things. The children just beam and act really proud. They stand a little higher and the peace usually lasts well into the evening.
Count Raoul March 02, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I currently assign myself a self-imposed Time Out each afternoon around 3pm. Some may call it a nap. One minute for each year of age. That's a good hour...yeah, that about does it.
Scarlet Buckley March 03, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I love these comments! Cute and playful! This one's a fun one, Leigh!
Adam McGoldrick April 22, 2014 at 10:21 PM
I think we need to see time-outs as a tool that we can use when we need it. We don't need to use it exclusively. It has limitations but it is very handy at times, especially with young children who have 0 empathy. As children get to the point where they will listen to reason you don't need it as often. It is best to have it when you need it, used in conjunction with counting, it is highly effective in maintaining order without resorting to shouting or screaming. It doesn't teach children much but those lessons can come at a time when the children are ready for them. As for the accusation of bullying, that is just unfounded rubbish.


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