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Time-Out Hurts the Child
April 22, 2016
In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.
-Baba Dioum

"In a brain scan, relational pain — that caused by isolation during punishment — can look the same as physical abuse," observes Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson in their Time article, "'Time-Outs' Are Hurting Your Child."

"When children are overtaxed emotionally, they sometimes misbehave; their intense emotions and the demands of the situation trump their internal resources.  The expression of a need or a big feeling therefore results in aggressive, disrespectful, or uncooperative behavior — which is simply proof that children haven’t built certain self-regulation skills yet.  Misbehavior is often a cry for help calming down, and a bid for connection....

"When the parental response is to isolate the child, an instinctual psychological need of the child goes unmet.  In fact, brain imaging shows that the experience of relational pain — like that caused by rejection — looks very similar to the experience of physical pain in terms of brain activity....

"On top of everything, time-outs are usually ineffective in accomplishing the goals of discipline: to change behavior and build skills.  Parents may think that time-outs cause children to calm down and reflect on their behavior.  But instead, time-outs frequently make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them.

"Next time the need for discipline arises, parents might consider a 'time-in': forging a loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting.  Some time to calm down can be extremely valuable for children, teaching them how to pause and reflect on their behavior.  Especially for younger children, such reflection is created in relationship, not in isolation.  And all of this will make parenting a whole lot more effective and rewarding in the long run."

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Comments (4)

Displaying All 4 Comments
Virginia · April 25, 2016
United States

This is completely ridiculous! The area of the brain that shows a child is upset is going to fire no matter the punishment. How did they do this study? Did they beat a group of kids and give another group of kids time out and see if their brains looked the same after? The child is mad that they are not allowed by their parent or caregiver to continue an undesired behavior. I this type of study is irresponsible. Many times a time out is not only for the child but for the parent. Now, you tell a parent that it is like beating your child to put them in their room for 2 minutes while you and your child have a chance to calm down. So what is a parent to do? Stay with the child while both parent and child get more and more frustrated? Taking away time-out from a parent's "tool box" may actually result in physical abuse!

Phyllis · April 25, 2016
United States

I'm wondering if giving a child extra attention for negative behavior would have the opposite effect, causing the child to behave negatively to receive the extra attention?

Randall W Smith, M.Ed. · April 22, 2016
United States

In terms of "Time-Out" your usage or those who use "Time-Out" as a punishment is completely inaccurate. In the grand scope, time out was NEVER intended to be used as a consequence or a punishment as called in the article. I worked with severely challenged children for 20 years and uses time out as a positive reinforcement for the child that would allow for simply removing, not isolating, the child from a negative stimulus and putting the child In a place where teachable moments and positive interaction could be reinforced. Time out should never be used to "isolate" a child from positive interaction. A child who needs to sit in a chair for example can use this time to visually learn how appropriate interaction proceeds in front of them, while adults monitor and actually use these teachable moments while a child is in "time out". There are always two sdes or more to every theory, but if time out is used the way it was intended to be used, not isolate but truly set a child up for positive interaction, then my opinion is use it but use it correctly.

Francis Wardle · April 22, 2016
Denver, CO, United States

I generally do not agree with this. I find it interesting there is not a piece about the permanent destructive effect of physical abuse, yelling at children, and verbal put downs, which many parents still deeply believe in, especially those from certain groups. Done effectively - i.e removing the child from the event or incident that caused the behavior, and making sure the child understands the nature of their infraction - which they often do - can be very effective.

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