Some argue against the use of Time Out discipline strategies despite scientific evidence of its effectiveness. Some criticisms of time out are justified. Discipline with Respect involves a commitment to a long-term loving parent-child relationship.
Used correctly, time out is a brief time away from a pleasant activity as a consequence for a child’s unacceptable socially aggresive or destructive behavior. In Discipline with Respect and other programs, parents and educators learn that time out is one of many strategies to help children learn to follow basic rules in home and school settings. The emphasis in Discipline with Respect and other parenting programs is always on creating a positive setting where children are encouraged to be a part of family and peer activities sometimes referred to as “time in.”
Parents and teachers explain time out in advance so children understand the purpose of a brief time away from activities and where they will spend that short period of time. It is best not to discuss the time out procedure or the problem behavior with a child who has not responded to a warning. Discussions can lead to escalation. Discussing the misbehavior can occur after the time out consequence if there is doubt the child does not see the connection between the aggressive behavior and the time out consequence.
Most time out guidelines suggest using about one minute in time out per year of age so 5-minutes for a child age 5 and 10 minutes for a ten-year-old.
Time out is more effective when children are in a chair or sitting on a mat away from the activity where they misbehaved. Time out is more effective when children are not playing with toys or doing other fun activities.
Time out is more effective when children calm briefly before they return to their previous activities.
Encourage positive interactions when the child returns to their activities.
Researchers find time out helps reduce both physical and verbal aggression and destructive behavior in many settings. Again, time out is only one strategy and should be used in the context of an overall positive program. Like other strategies, time out will not always be effective with every child.
Time out is not a strategy for every type of misbehavior. The focus of research is on using time out to interrupt aggressive and destructive behavior, which is often accompanied by anger. The risk of not using time out or other effective strategies is that children will continue to be aggressive as they grow older. Some may be concerned about repressing anger but that concern is not supported by evidence. Parents and teachers can teach the appropriate way to express anger within their culture—for example, using words and taking constructive action.
Some parenting sources advocate holding aggressive children but this is controversial. Parents and other care givers find it difficult to safely and effectively hold aggressive children.
Those who focus only on positive approaches to discipline help engender an attitude of respect. However, most find that effective discipline needs to include consequences for severe misbehavior. For an academic review of research on time out, see the Morawska and Sanders (2011) reference.
Morawska, A., & Sanders, M. (2011). Parental use of time out revisited: A useful or harmful parenting strategy?. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(1), 1-8. doi:10.1007/s10826-010-9371-x
Shriver, M. D., & Allen, K. D. (1996). The time-out grid: A guide to effective discipline. School Psychology Quarterly, 11(1), 67-75. doi:10.1037/h0088921
Sutton, G. W. (2018). Discipline with Respect in Caring Relationships. Sunflower Press. Available from Amazon.
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