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We’ve all heard of the ‘time out’ approach to parenting.

There are countless versions of timeouts for any modern parent, whether it’s the traditional ‘go to your room’ or the more on-trend naughty step. A clear-cut way to provide punishment and discipline to children for all manner of behavior and actions, time outs are a staple for many households. But should they be?

According to The Parenting Junkie, time-outs can cause more harm than good. They’re considered the modern equivalent of spanking by some and can lead to similar negative outcomes over time as any other form of more extreme or deprivation-based discipline. The primary reason why time-outs can be so harmful is that they provide one punishment to fit every crime. Children might receive time-outs for any of the following:

  • Having a tantrum
  • Hitting or fighting with other children
  • Refusing to eat their dinner
  • Shouting and being rude
  • Not listening to their parent when speaking to

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Discipline appropriately

As you can see from these examples, not all forms of ‘crime’ are made equal. In the case of children, it can send seriously mixed messages if they are disciplined for making a mess, like they would be biting another child. In our eyes, one is much worse than the other – but we’re teaching our children that how ‘bad’ they are is the same.

What is the cause of the bad behavior?

Another consideration when it comes to children acting out or other behavioral issues is the cause of that behavior in the first place. While sometimes aggression comes from a place of learned behaviors, jealousy, or even mean-spiritedness, a lot of the behavior smaller children display is based on their emotions and distress, particularly when it comes to tantrums, shouting, or similar emotion-led behavior. In these cases, sitting your child in time out may not only leave them to cope with their emotions themselves but also act to invalidate their feelings and emotions.

How to manage discipline

What can parents do to manage discipline for children if time out isn’t the right solution? According to No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Siegal and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, the answer is to have time.

With time ins, the parent remains with the child during the period they are being disciplined, helping them through their distress. The child’s behavior is still managed, but more positively during the process.

Time-outs

One of the main issues with time outs, mainly when applied to younger children, is that they can’t understand the reason for their punishment or accept it when it comes. Often, this results in an increasingly upset child stressed parents, and difficulty managing the time-out process consistently.

Children are often out of control or extremely angry or upset because they struggle to regulate and manage their emotions; punitive actions don’t prevent this process, as they can’t yet understand what punishment means and why they should accept it.

Understand why discipline is needed

If parents consider children who misbehave as difficult or challenging, it’s easy to see why punitive discipline springs to mind. But if you think of a child displaying negative behaviors as upset, it’s entirely possible to understand that punishment isn’t the right fit.

It’s also just as vital for parents to manage their emotions and reactions surrounding how their child is disciplined. We’re wired to react to negative behavior, but by taking a step back and calming yourself down, you’re in a far better place to provide ‘time in’ with your child.

Offer support

For many parents, offering support when a child misbehaves feels like a validation of the behavior. But with smaller children especially, they don’t have the understanding to know right from wrong. While you shouldn’t reward bad behavior, offering your presence, support, and acceptance during the time shouldn’t be considered something positive; instead, it’s a neutral way to diffuse a situation.

Take away

Time-outs can lead to more significant anxiety, tantrums, and aggression for many children. Instead, trying out time-ins can provide a way for you to connect with your child and discipline them in a calmer, less emotionally-charged way.