Timeouts are supposed to give parents and children a break from each other when emotions run high. But could timeouts be teaching the wrong lesson?
Experts believe that when you ignore, remove, or withdraw parental attention, you can promote positive behavior in your child. But what if a child perceives this action as the removing or withholding of parental love? Or a form of banishment and humiliation?
Of course, children need to learn to associate good consequences with good and safe behavior and bad consequences with bad and dangerous behavior. But could timeouts actually be an ineffective teaching tool, psychologically damaging, or worsening behavior?
Perhaps it’s time to rethink and a take time out from timeouts.
The Problem With Timeouts For Children
- Timeouts use the fear of abandonment for discipline – A child should never feel rejected by their parents. Yet, a timeout pushes a child away when they need their parents the most. They end up behaving just because their fear of abandonment was triggered.
- Timeouts can weaken the parent-child bond – That bond is the only reason a child behaves in the first place. It’s a crucial component in their emotional development. Parental affection is extremely important to them – specifically in the toddler stage.
- Timeouts can make children see themselves as bad people – Small children, in particular, have trouble separating themselves from their feelings. For that reason, it’s difficult for them to understand that their actions are bad, not they themselves. The message they receive may be that their parents are pushing them away because they are unlovable unless they display pleasant emotions.
- Timeouts don’t teach children to manage their emotions – When a young child is upset, they feel unsafe. Everything is scary and confusing because they haven’t learned yet to sort out their feelings and handle them right. Sending them to their room might calm them down, but it does little for teaching them how to regulate their emotions.
- Timeouts are often being used incorrectly – A common misunderstanding is that timeouts must physically isolate the child. Many times, schools and daycare centers have a designated “time out chair” where misbehaving children must sit. But sending a child to that chair is a humiliation, comparable to a verbal spanking. It can be devastating for them – like putting on a dunce cap.
Some Better Methods for Disciplining
Parents must be keenly aware of what kind of discipline is best for each developmental stage. Ask yourself if your child’s behavior is truly defiant or just a consequence of them not having the skill to manage it. Always discipline in a positive, loving, and kind way, aiming to understand your child.
Consider these methods:
- Positive reinforcement and prevention – Create a loving and balanced environment. Lay the groundwork and have positive interactions with your child all the time. Don’t just interact when they do something wrong.
- Parental example – Modeling emotional self-management is key. Stay calm and take a timeout to keep yourself from doing or saying anything you’ll regret. Your actions will teach more than your words.
- Emotional coaching – You have to pay close attention to your child’s behavior. The moment you see signs of them becoming upset, you must help them address it. This will let them see that you understand their struggle and that you’re right there with them.
- Providing a “holding environment” – It doesn’t mean you have to physically hold your child. Neither does it mean you should surrender and let them have what you just told them they can’t have. Once a meltdown starts, stay close, stay calm, and stay silent. Just offer your total and loving attention. Your presence will reassure your child that they are safe. After you ride out the storm, you can teach them appropriate behavior.