How To Discipline Kids Without Using Emotionally Abusive Time-Outs

How To Discipline Kids Without Emotionally Abusive Time-Outs

A few years ago, Time Magazine alerted parents that time-outs, a popular punishment for kids, may affect the child's brain the same way emotionally abuse does.

'Time-Outs' Are Hurting Your Child was the headline, and it sent shivers down parents' spines that still reverberate.

This headline has left many parents wondering what to do now, and curious about how to parent without punitive time-outs. After all, time-outs have been emphasized and taught for the past two decades, and for the last few years we have had to deal with leading authorities saying that it's as bad for the brain as emotional abuse — yikes!

As Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. explain in the article, "Discipline is about teaching — not about punishment — and finding ways to teach children appropriate behavior is essential for healthy development."

I am going to make sense of this for you and provide with you with alternative ways to discipline kids, as well as how to use time-outs safely, so that you can effectively discipline your child without the guilt.

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1. Don't use time-outs as a primary method of discipline.

It is "repeated experiences" that can alter the shape and form of the brain, so don't use time-outs as the 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. Teach your child to take a break from a situation, rather than giving a time-out.

Keep 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 time-outs (or taking a break from a situation) is 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 has the opportunity to hold, soothe, and teach the lesson that they want their child to understand.

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3. Give yourself a break from a potentially explosive situation.

Have you been using time-outs 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) have been utilized, they feel as if they are going to explode

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. Try a "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.

Most importantly, 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.

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Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is author of Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process. For more, listen to her podcast and sign up fo her newsletter.