Do Time-Outs Work? It’s Time to Reframe the Question

Mona Delahooke, Ph.D.

October 27th, 2019 

Are time-outs an effective strategy for parents to cope with children’s challenging behaviors?

Before I studied early childhood development, I occasionally used time-outs with my own children because they were touted as an effective and appropriate discipline technique. Decades later, a debate is raging about whether or not this is true. A recent Time article tried to address that question, but the effort backfired, generating confusion rather than clarity among parents and professionals alike.

The story quoted one expert, UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel, who said that the “punishment and social isolation” of time-outs are harmful to children.  But in the same article, Rachel Knight, a University of Michigan psychologist, argued that extensive data shows children in families using time-outs are no more likely to experience “anxiety, depression, aggression, rule-breaking behaviors, or self-control problems” than those whose parents didn’t use time-outs.

I could quibble about the limits of research on human emotional development, but the real problem with the article was that missed the larger point by focusing on a simplistic question: are time-outs good or bad? Here’s a more relevant question: how should parents decide when and whether to use time-outs — or any strategy — for a particular child?

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About S. R. Zelenz 119 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.