In defense of time outs

Recently, there was a thread on a message board about time outs.  People were pretty preachy as they knocked parents who do give time outs.  At least the posters gave all sorts of helpful advice on alternative methods of teaching appropriate behavior, such as: talk to your kids and explain the issues with their behavior, allow for natural consequences, and give positive reinforcements.

Positive reinforcement!  Why didn’t I think of that?

I think it is worth stating that some kids listen beautifully when told to do something, are aghast at disappointing their parents, and respond well to reason. My eldest is just like that.

And some kids think it is hysterical when they are admonished not to do something, drink in the praise for good behavior without one bit of abatement in the daily routine of beating their older brothers over the head with an ice cream scoop for fun, and periodically shove their baby sisters flat on their backs for daring to play with a toy. My middle is just like that.

I like to think the eldest behaves as he does because we are stellar parents. Clearly the middle was just born that way. The only thing that has helped is the combination of sticker charts for good behavior, praise, repeated visits to “the unkindness chair,” and a good healthy dose of activity. But the time outs are a part of setting clear limits with this charming but rambunctious kid.

Time outs work. They are time away from a situation to calm the child down.  They are consequences for something egregious (because the only “natural consequence” to shoving a 10 month old and taking her toy is that the three-year-old gets the toy). They are a physical demonstration that the behavior is unacceptable for a kid who doesn’t really care how often you sit down and discuss behavior with him eye-to-eye.

Do not assume that just because a parent uses time-outs, she or he is not also praising positive behavior. Do not assume that the parents are simply “punishing.” There is nothing wrong with discipline.

We all parent differently, sometimes differently for each kid because each kid calls for different methods. My job is not to raise a child; it is to raise an adult.  And an adult who thinks he can get away with violent behavior is not my goal.

24 responses to “In defense of time outs

  1. Cheeky Monkey

    Now time outs are coming under attack? Flech.

    Sometimes I think that there are certain places where people would try to fight with you about the color of the sky. Just because it’s cool to be ornery.

  2. thegreenlife04

    Your last point is mine, too. My job is to raise adults. And there aren’t any natural consequences for biting your brother (or your mom), pushing down whoever gets too close to you, or screaming “NO!” when asked to follow directions. Time-out is the way we are teaching cooperation and kindness in our house, too.In real life if you scream “NO!” at your boss, you’re going to get fired. That’s one big, permanent time-out that I’d like to see my child avoid. If I can teach him to be responsible for his own behavior now, maybe I can help him do that.

    It is ridiculous to assume that someone who is using time-outs isn’t also teaching appropriate behaviors to replace inappropriate ones, using positive reinforcement, and communicating with their child.

    I don’t think I said anything in this comment except to agree with everything you said … sorry about that.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this and so glad it wasn’t me who saw people criticizing time outs. Soon parents will be completely defenseless against the onslaught; simpering fops that these wicked smart children can easily manipulate. My first was as headstrong as they come and she would say to me that she’d rather be spanked than go to time out. Just spank me and get it over with so I can go on with my plans, please. (I was not a spanker! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!)

    Time out did work, and it works with my son and my little one is showing signs of needing one on occasion already.

    My kids also get tons of praise, sticker charts, rewards for good behavior, etc.

  4. I can’t imagine someone having an issue with time-outs. As you said, different styles of parenting are required for different children, or at different ages.

    “reasoning” with the younger set is nothing but hot air.

  5. People have a problem with time outs? Seriously? That’s ….. strange.

    We never used them with our oldest because they flat out never worked for him but we use them with the little one all the time. Well, not ALL the time because that makes her sound like a holy terror (which she is but that’s another story) but time outs are the discipline that works best for her.

    I guess maybe when she hits or kicks her brother I should what? Praise her good aim?

  6. I think some parents are scared to discipline their children. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid it will damage their self esteem? Make the child mad at them? I don’t know. But the last time I checked, my 2 year old can’t concentrate on his toy train for longer than 30 seconds, so why should I expect him to sit and listen while we talk about consequences and choices, and explaining his behavior. This might work with a 6 year old. But younger children need to have their consequences SHOWN to them. And using time out is teaching your children that there are consequences for poor choices you make. If I don’t say anything, or don’t use time out when my son throws his toys across the room, there would be no consequence. Even if he broke something, it would probably be something of mine, so where is the consequence in that for him?

    This gets me so fired up, and I have to say that I would like to observe the behavior of these children who aren’t being disciplined.

  7. I find it amusing that people are attacking time outs now….geeeeez…..I don’t often use timeouts with Monkey simply b/c they don’t seem to work. Most of the time I re-direct or try to talk to her but, come on, she’s 2 and her ability to reason and understand logic aren’t really there yet. So what is my other option? Do nothing? Smack her butt?

  8. Oh for heaven’s sake! How on earth is it a bad thing to remove a child from the situation (logical consequence) and put them in a neutral place to a) calm down and b) consider the results of their behaviour? Time out worked on my middle child because said child hated boredom – hated it. We used it from age 18 months (Child was precocious. in EVIL) up to age 3 at which point more complex logical consequences could be explained, understood and applied. For that year and a half time out was the only thing – the ONLY thing that worked.

  9. Ditto to all of the above. We shouldn’t use time-outs? Ridiculous.

  10. Ha. Hahahahahaha.

    C’mon, “reasoners” – come over to my house. Go ahead and try and “reason” with my Badger while he screams in your face and pulls your hair and kicks you and calls you stupid.

    Time outs aren’t for everyone, but for my kid, they’re what works.

  11. I usually try not to get personal and bitchy, but since everyone else has already said what I would have, I can’t resist pointing out that the proponents of ‘gentle discipline’ that I know of generally demonstrate this by letting their kids do whatever the hell they want, including beating on other people’s kids, and then periodically yelling swears at them when they stop finding the ‘natural consequences’ course so enchanting.

    Just sayin’.

  12. Allison’s comment made me laugh because I’ve seen the same thing.

    Every kid is different & what works for one won’t work for another, but what do we teach if we can’t set and keep boundaries around their behaviour? That they are bigger and stronger than the people they are dependent upon. That’s got to be scary for a little kid. Time-out is one thing in a repertoire of teaching kids what behaviour is okay and not okay.

  13. I agree with the premise of the post, that people have to use whatever discipline works for their family. But I’m not sure where that leaves me…we use positive reinforcement and time-outs, and they have never really “worked” for any of our kids. Some rare occasions, when they feel like being compliant, yes, it works. But otherwise, we find ourselves confused in a world where experts swear that things work, and for us nothing really does.

    Having said that, my kids are fairly easy and well behaved. I just wish that there were other parents like us out there — sort of throwing up their hands about all discipline schools of thought.

  14. It just makes sense that if you can’t abide by the rules and expectations then you need to be removed from the situation for a while. What if an adult went to work and jumped on all the chairs, hit the other employees, and later on loudly cursed everyone out? He or she would be asked, at the very least, to take a break or “time out” from the situation to cool off, calm down, and rethink their choices.

    I look at discipline as a gift to my child. She needs to learn how to act appropriately so that she does not hurt herself, socializes properly, can feel confident in new situations, and be a welcome part of any group.

    I am pretty sure that critics of time outs either don’t have kids or just have really well behaved kids that don’t need time outs.

  15. It makes me wonder if the “reasoner” who said that we shouldn’t use time-outs isn’t perhaps a childless male?

  16. Well if time-outs are out the door, I’ll revert to spanking and smacks on the hand, they worked for my parents.

  17. Allison’s comment cracked me up. I have an aunt who raised her kids that way, and they were HOLY TERRORS until they were about 14 and realized that no one – not family, not at school, NO ONE would hang out with them. They got better after that, but it’s not something I’d bank on as a general rule. *snort*

    As far as my mom was concerned, “natural” consequences were whatever she told us the consequence would be if we did [x] again, and those consequences varied (depending on the severity of the offense) from a talking-to all the way up to a swift swat on the rear. (And she was creative, too. A couple of times she made me write multi-page, researched essays on things – sometimes related to the offense, but not always – as punishment. As an adult of course, I think she was brilliant. As I kid, I hated those papers with a fiery passion, LOL.)

    She told me years later that her parenting philosophy was, “Make the kid so miserable that it’s not worth doing [x] again.” That explained the time I had to clean the bathroom – including the toilet – with rubber gloves and a toothbrush. Yecccch.

  18. I think Time Outs are pretty useful! I mean, realistically, you can’t always come up with a positive reinforcement system or something like that. Kids SHOULD earn positive rewards for some things. For instance they can earn stickers, points, or whatever, for being kind, being polite, working on a goal, doing their homework, or whatever. but there are some things, like hitting or being rude or blatantly disobeying adults, when you have to think, that is wrong, the kid knows its wrong, and the kid needs a Time Out.

  19. They’ll be the same parent shaking their head, saying he was such a great kid, as he’s getting carted off to Juvy with Opositional defiance disorder at 12.

  20. Like everyone, I do wonder how time outs can possibly be offensive? When my son was little, the term didn’t exist, but trial and error indicated that sometimes the only way he could calm down from a bad tantrum was some time alone in his room. Dear, dear, parenting is hard enough. I have no idea why anyone would wish to take a harmless, helpful option, not just for discipline, but for teaching emotional containment, in difficult situations.

  21. Interesting. Once the debate was time outs vs spankings. I didn’t read the debates online you’re referring to, but frankly time outs ARE very effective. My step kids are older now – 8 and 10 – and still respond to a threat of time outs. A simple 1..2.. and they step back in line. At times it’s the only thing that works. In my brief experience as a step-parent, I can see the benefit for the parent too – a time to calm down. Last thing I want to add is that words can be much more harmful than a time out. I find it near impossible to disguise my annoyance/irritability/anger/disgust in my voice with their behavior sometimes. If I had to verbalize why their behavior is inappropriate, I’m afraid they would be devastated by my negativity. Time outs can be much safer for all involved.
    Or maybe I’m just an evil step-mother 😉

  22. No wonder there are so many brats out there. Dumb ass parents that are scared to death of hurting their little darlings’ precious oversized egos!

  23. I love time-outs so much I give them to myself, too.

  24. Also, time outs help YOU be a better parent! Think of all the therapy children would need if they forced their parents to yell at them rather than giving them a break to count to 10 when they’re misbehaving!