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Is Putting Our Kids in Time-Out Really Effective?

Most parents have been there: locked in a power struggle with their child. Whether the disagreement is over homework or screen time, it’s likely to escalate to some type of punishment. Some experts have been reconsidering whether or not “time-out” is the right solution, or if parents are missing out on other tactics that could help dissolve certain disagreements before they get explosive. 

As reported in a fascinating article from Parents.com, Dr. Burt Banks, a professor of medicine at East Tennessee State University, was finding himself nagging his children more just occasionally. The nagging would turn into screaming fights, which led to time-out. Emotions were running high, and Dr. Banks determined his discipline methods weren’t working. It begged him to ask the question, “what exactly is time-out?”

Time-out is, literally, a pause in the caregiver’s attention. Why? Acting out is an attention-seeking behavior. The more adults or peers give in, or, give their attention, the more the child is perhaps encouraged to continue. Dr. Banks discovered that once he took his own time-out from interacting, his child was able to calm himself down. He discovered that his presence and interaction was only aggravating the situation, not alleviating it. Practicing time-out means also practicing “time-in,” or, positive reinforcement. Encourage and acknowledge good, kind, and respectful behavior in your children, and observe how that reinforcement shifts your child’s behavior.

Giving a child a break means that you are giving them a break from a situation that has become overwhelming for them, and may result in inappropriate behavior. Using techniques such as designating a special chair, or setting a loud timer, are tactics designed to humiliate, not improve. If a child is feeling your attention and focus, which they will if put in a special chair only designated for punishment, there is less of an incentive to change their behavior. In Dr. Banks’s alternate form of time-out, nothing has to change about the physical environment; it just means interactions between a caregiver and child are put on pause for a brief period. The power of ignoring a behavior can have a profound impact. It says that you simply will not acknowledge this behavior and until it stops, so will interaction. 

To help reinforce this new approach to time-out, stay consistent. Repetitive behavior is an excellent way to instill positive values in your child. Will bad behaviors completely cease? No, that’s not realistic. But by practicing positive avoidance (when necessary) you can actively work to avoid more dramatic, painful blowouts.