By Rebecca Eanes
You know the drill. Everyone from your pediatrician to Super Nanny told you how to administer a proper time-out to a misbehaving child. You were supposed to send them to a designated chair away from everyone else for one minute per age. No eye contact. No talking to them. And when the time was up, you were to tell them what they did wrong and what you expect.
Nearly everyone used them at some point. Time-outs became a popular discipline technique after spanking was scientifically proven to be harmful. Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet adequately researched the effects of separation-based discipline. Now that we have studied it, it is coming to light that time-outs are actually harmful as well.
In a piece for Time Magazine titled Time-Outs are Hurting Your Child, No-Drama Discipline authors Drs. Tina Bryson and Daniel Siegel assert that, even when presented in a patient and loving manner, children experience time-out as rejection, and because children have a profound need for connection with their parents or caregiver, this is particularly psychologically distressing. They go on to say that decades of research in attachment demonstrate that in times of distress, we need to be near and soothed by people who care for us. Time-outs force children to suffer alone while they deal with feelings of abandonment and rejection added to whatever emotion was driving their behavior in the first place.
To further understand the trouble with this separation-based tactic, I turned to Neufeld Institute authorized facilitator Bridgett Miller. Miller has worked alongside and been mentored by Dr. Gordon Neufeld who is a developmental psychologist with more than 40 years of experience working with children and those who raise them. She is the author of What Young Children Need You to Know and is my trusted source when it comes to understanding child development. I asked Miller, “Why are separation-based techniques not ideal?”
And this is what she had to say:
So, what is the solution?
Time-ins are a positive parenting tool that uses a connection-based approach. Rather than sending the child away, you invite them into your presence as you help calm, redirect, and teach. Generation Mindful's Time-In ToolKit helps parents and children create this space together and tools such as SnuggleBuddies plush toys and Heart's Treasure Hunt furthers the connection during both regulated and dyregulated moments.
While some worry that this “time with a parent” is a “reward,” I would argue that it is only a reward if such time with a parent is rare. We mustn’t think of love and attention as rewards but rather as essential needs to be met. When the child has calmed down in the caregiver’s presence, they are then ready to talk about the effects of their behavior and how to better handle themselves in the future, because only a calm brain is receptive to lessons. As Drs. Bryson and Siegel share, “Reflection is created in relationship, not in isolation.”
For a free set of printable calming strategies and video on how to use time-ins, join our mailing list. Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline.