5 Kid Punishments That Are A Lot Better Than Time-Outs

Self, Family

Making sense of the Time Magazine article on how time-outs are hurting your child.

"'Time-Outs' Are Hurting Your Child," Time Magazine told us recently. This headliner has left many parents wondering what to do now! Time-outs have been emphasized and taught for the past two decades, and now we have a leading authority saying that it's as bad for the brain as emotional abuse—yikes! I am going to make sense of this for you and provide with you with parenting advice ideas and alternatives so that you can effectively discipline your child, without the guilt.

  1. It is "repeated experiences" that can alter the shape and form of the brain, so don't use time-out as a primary method or only method of disciplining your child. Have other options readily available and be clear what your intention is with a time-out—which leads me to the next point.
  2. When you do a time-out, do it with the following things in mind. Time-out was never intended to be a punishment, it was intended to be a break from the situation at hand to get calm so that learning can occur. The argument on the other side is that a three year old may not have the ability to calm himself, and therefore just isolating them sends a message you only love them when they are good. When things are done well, however, a child is able to walk away from the situation at hand that is likely causing frustration or anger and gets to cry and release that anger in a way that is not hurtful to herself or someone else. The parent then comes in when they themselves are regulated and then has the opportunity to hold, soothe and teach the lesson that they want their child to understand.
  3. Are they for the child or the parent?  I think in many cases they are as much for the adult as for the child. Sometimes after all the tools a parent has readily available (bribes, threats, short term ignoring) they are going to explode and then they quickly have two tools available: yelling or time-out. In those moments when your child is looking at you and saying, "no, no" to a time-out, if you cannot be calm then I support you saying, "I need a break for a few minutes."  I would rather a frustrated parent take a break rather than risk yelling or being physically rough out of anger.
  4. Time-In. This is the parenting tool of being able to stay emotionally and physically connected with your child in times of emotional distress. It can be highly effective and rewarding when the parent is truly calm themselves and the child is responsive to being held, sat next to or rocked when they are upset. Not every child responds to this in the moment of stress, just like not every child responds to time-out in the moment of stress. In cases of childhood trauma, abuse or neglect, time-in should be used as a primary mode of intervention.
  5. You need to know yourself and your child. I agree with the article that "reflection is created in relationship"; however, what is most important is that the adult relating to the child is calm and regulated themselves. Since this is often not the case, I would propose that parents focus on calming themselves first the next time a conflict arises with their child and see how a time-in might enhance the relationship with the child.

Sheryl Ziegler is a Doctor of Psychology who specializes in children, families and parenting. She has been teaching Time-in for over a decade to the families she works with. She has also followed the works of Dr. Siegel and others who study children, trauma, development and the brain.


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