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Should you stop using ‘time out’ as punishment?

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You might have been using ‘time outs’ for a while now to deal with your child’s behavior. However, the growing trend in positive parenting advocates for something called ‘time-in’, which we cover here. So, have you been doing it wrong? Have you been unintentionally harming your child? The research is largely mixed.

Is time out harmful for children? 

The short answer - it’s not entirely clear, but probably not. Dr. Daniel Siegal is probably one of the most well-known advocates of not using time out. He argues that time outs cause social isolation when the child is in need of support, which may then trigger brain pathways that are responsible for pain. However, another long-term study on 3 to 12 year olds on the effects of time out showed that children did not show any increased risk of aggression, anxiety, depression or self-control issues. In fact, there are still plenty of professionals who encourage the use of time outs. So, what should you do? In our opinion, you are allowed to use time outs, but use them sparingly and keep these few points in mind. 

  1. 1. Use it only when necessary. If you feel like you yourself need some space to calm down, you can put your child on a short time out (around 5 minutes). 

  2. 2. Short time outs have the same effect as long time outs. Try to keep time outs short so that you can get to the root of the problem. 

  3. 3. If possible, be present. You can send your child to time out but you can still quietly sit with them. You can tell them that you are there to talk when they are ready. 

  4. 4. Talk afterwards. After time out, spend time talking and understanding why your child acted out. Talk about other ways they could have dealt with the problem. 

  5. 5. Time in is preferred. While there may not be negative effects of time out, there is research to suggest that time in can lead to more positive outcomes. 

We know that time out is not only for your child, it’s also time for you to calm down and gather yourself. You are not a bad parent if you use time out. Just remember that time out can be a lot more effective when done properly. 


Resources: 

https://time.com/5700473/time-outs-science/ 

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/302/5643/290.abstract 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789404800273 

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