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?