Are Time-Outs Bad?
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Are time-outs a thing of the past? Are they too old-school? Too harsh? Are time-outs detrimental for kids’ development? Do they only cause shame and isolation? Do only control-seeking parents give time-outs?
It seems as though many current parent coaches and parents today seem to make the judgement that time-outs are bad. They seem to believe that discipline strategies like time-outs hamper a kid’s spirit and disempower the child. I disagree. I applaud the intention of not wanting to harm a kid’s spirit and of wanting to keep the kid empowered. However, I see it as a contradiction to think that the absence of discipline strategies will achieve the goal of empowering kids.
The way I see it, it all relates to a profound paradox of life. It’s similar to the differences in the way of seeing freedom and empowerment in the context of health and fitness, for example. Sometimes, we think that we’re free and empowered to treat ourselves to ice-cream binges and fried food indulgences. This may be freedom from having to eat healthy foods, but it actually results in the opposite of feeling free and empowered because we experience the negative effects in our bodies and mood. We don’t want to have the discipline to exercise, and while not exercising may seem like liberation, it actually robs us of our liberation when we huff and puff going up the stairs and experience the aches and pains of a sedentary lifestyle. This is the same type of paradox that I also see in parents shying away from time-outs and disciplining techniques thinking it robs their kids of liberation and empowerment. It is the exact opposite of this!
Isn’t it true that if your kid whines, tantrums, bites, hits, and screams uncontrollably at times that you’d be less likely to feel confident in taking them places and attempting to do cool projects with them? I remember our school had an end-of-the-year block party with many carnival games, face painting, and food. One year, I remember inviting a family, but the mom declined saying that there was no way she could manage bringing her 3 small children to this event and even the thought of doing so stressed her out. Then at the event, I remember meeting a different mom who came to this event with her 3 young kids and seemed to be enjoying herself. She was calm, not stressed, and her kids were behaving nicely. At the time, I didn’t inquire into how she got her kids to behave, but it definitely gave me something to think about. How could one mom have the peace and trust to take her kids to enjoy a block party, but the other mom saw it as too stressful and lacked the confidence to be able to manage her kids there?
Either the mom who attended the block party just happened to have naturally obedient kids, or she likely used discipline strategies in her household to get her kids to get to the point where she could trust their behavior at a crowded event. It’s also likely that the mom who didn’t trust her kids’ behavior did not use effective discipline strategies at home. Parents who use discipline with their kids are able to provide their kids with more freedoms and opportunities, in terms of places they could go and things they could do. This example, along with a multitude of others over the years, pointed me to the truth of the matter, which is that discipline gives us access to freedom.
Families that can take their kids out to dinner and trust that the kids’ behavior will be fine, again, either seemingly lucked out with naturally obedient kids, or they likely have used discipline strategies at home. More and more cool and exciting opportunities open up as parents can trust their kids’ behavior, like travel, road trips, flights, advanced craft projects, etc. If parents don’t have discipline strategies in place, then activities like these are not enjoyable to say the least, and the effect on their occurrences will likely be that they are minimized rather than maximized. So, if correctly-implemented discipline strategies such as time-outs support kids in behaving nicely, and that leads to greater levels of trusting them within more exciting experiences in life, then you can see how time-outs enable freedom and empowerment in life.
What I mean by “correctly-implemented time-outs” is key. Context is very impactful. There are so many nuances within the time-out structure that are extremely important to understand in order to empower kids through them. When time-outs are not executed properly, then yes, they can elicit shame, isolation, and a power-struggle. In my coaching and in my upcoming online course, these nuances are taught, based on my 23 years of experience in disciplining kids to empower them.
In the olden days, “naughty” behavior from a kid may have resulted in them having to wear a dunce cap and sit in the corner in a classroom. Obviously, that is very disempowering! With adults today typically having horror stories or traumatic experiences dealing with unfair and unloving disciplinarians from our past, it’s easy to understand why parents want to veer as far away from discipline as possible. However, if we can sort through and throw away the dehumanizing trash of discipline usage from the past, we will find that the basic elements of discipline applied with love and care, are extremely important to put in with our children.
Usually when I talk to parents whose kids display out-of-control, disrespectful behavior, it turns out the parents themselves have issues with their own parents’ harsh treatment of them when they themselves were growing up. So as a result, today’s parents typically want to not be anything like what they grew up with, so they veer to the opposite extreme. Whereas the pendulum historically swung in negatively executed time-outs, now has swung to the other extreme in an epidemic of permissive, passive parenting.
In recent years more and more, I see kids defying their parents, refusing to cooperate with what the parent is trying to say. I see kids leading the way, with the parents conceding and reluctantly following behind them. I hear alarming screeches and screaming from kids, and parents seemingly giving these “big feelings” all the room they want. I see tantrums erupting from insignificant occurrences and parents not knowing how to handle their kids. Then I even hear from honest parents examples of how this is expressed within the privacy of their home. It’s gotten to the point that some kids hit their parents, say or scream mean and hurtful things to their parents, bite, destroy property, etc. Then, these are the same kids who “coincidentally” have issues with anxiety. Of course these kids will struggle with anxiety if the parents have accidentally elevated the kids to be the boss of the family. That’s not where kids belong! Kids feel safe and secure (and anxiety is relieved) when parents are the boss (aka authority figure). Shying away from discipline does not empower kids, instead, I believe it is actually a disservice to kids.
In my coaching and upcoming course, I teach parents how to step into their role as an authority figure because kids need that from their parents. A family is healthy and functioning when kids are in their rightful place submitting to and respecting their parents as authority figures. The reason this is so unpopular today is because of those bad examples of controlling, hostile parents from the past. It’s understandable, but let’s bring balance into that pendulum swing and learn how to discipline our kids in loving, caring, and respectful ways. Unfortunately, if nothing is done to make changes, childhood anxiety may likely continue and progress into emotional health immaturity, troubled peer relationships, and mental health issues.
Many parents today couldn’t love their kids more. It’s evident. The kids have all the opportunities in the world and are provided for in amazing ways. However, let’s reconsider our view on time-outs and discipline strategies and make sure to use them when needed. Your kids may not show on the surface that they enjoy discipline, but deep down they long for it. They’ll be relieved deep down in their soul, thinking, “thank goodness my parents finally found a way to stop me from acting like this, because I couldn’t do it on my own,” I feel safe knowing that under my parents’ care, I can always trust that they will keep me in line.” Now that is the opposite of anxiety! That is security. Feeling secure is a missing ingredient that kids will struggle with when parents shy away from the structures of discipline.
As I learned earlier in my career, wanting kids to like me and wanting to be friends with kids, didn’t work. I felt “mean” to give a time-out or call a kid out on their disrespectful behavior. However, I did a big disservice to those kids. Their character didn’t get shaped by me. They missed out on that because I was too preoccupied with having kids like me and approve of me. After so many years of teaching, I know it’s the opposite. That same paradox is applicable here as well. The more “strict” I became, the more the kids loved me. They respected me and admired me more because I modeled for them how to hold others to be accountable to standards. I modeled courage, care, and fairness as an authority figure. I emphasized how discipline shapes and corrects our character and grows us into our best selves. Once I trained kids into accepting and submitting under my discipline, another paradox is that, the less and less discipline was even needed. The more I could reliably trust kids’ behavior, the more advanced projects we could do, the more exciting field trips I could take them on, and the more independence and freedom I could let them have.
If this article is resonating with you, you may be convicted to start making some changes. That is where I come in. I offer monthly packages of unlimited support from me via text, voice, and video 2-way communication. What you’d bring to the table is describing your situation and sharing who your kids are, including their personalities, likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. You would tell me what the troubling behaviors are and how you usually have dealt with it. I would use what you’ve shared to find a good starting place, and I would offer practical ways to start turning things around that you agree with. I would hear from you how it went, and we would work together to make some changes and tweaks if necessary. Then we would build on to continue the good results. I know it is not easy to take on the challenge of considering making changes at home with how you handle your kids, but you can do it, especially with my support right alongside you. You will see quick changes in your kids’ behavior and you will be amazed, “not knowing they had it in them to be so good” (as written in one of my testimonials). Go to my website: www.getkidstobehave.com to see if there is availability to book a free call to see if we are a good fit. Subscribe to my email list to get updates on future availability and the launch of my upcoming online course.
Maura from Get Kids To Behave