123 Time-Out – Know the Risks!

123 Time-Out Advantages and Disadvantages

Time-out seems to be a popular discipline/punishment method. Parents need to be aware that it has risks for their child and their relationship. Although many parents claim it has “worked” they often mean that it has worked to gain compliance in the short-run.

Long-run effects of this method, on the child and the parent-child relationship are listed under the disadvantages. What can parents do instead? There are many methods to getting children to calm down. Try Time-In instead.

In Time-in, the parent assists the child in regaining self-control. They coach the child how to deep breathe, how to stop and take a minute to channel feelings at an object, or redirect their anger and frustration with physical outlets. Breathing, touch, hugs, soft words, and rocking will all help a child finish crying and be “ready” to listen – to teaching, comforting, encouragement and kind words of direction in what to do instead next time. With many repetitions, children soon learn that taking a time-out from the source of annoyance is a good coping strategy, rather than a punishment, and will repeat it themselves on their own.

Advantages of using Time-Out

• Puts limits on behaviours.
• Invites little adult emotion.
• Increases consistency.
• Simple to do.
• Helps parents to calm themselves down.
• Better than spanking and hitting.
• Transferable among care-givers.
• Developed for children with ADD.
• Sometimes attains “short-run” goals of stopping misbehaviour.

Disadvantages of Using Time-Out

• Promises “magic” and speed, which can be an unrealistic goal in parenting.
• Fails to address long-run goals of the child developing belonging and attachment with family.
• Teaches that time-out is a negative punishment rather than a positive life skill.
• Invites power struggles in keeping a child constrained in time-out.
• Encourages submission to a bigger-sized person.
• Fails to teach problem-solving and co-operation skills.
• Can incite anger, frustration, and resentment in the child.
• Can promote rebellion, retaliation, and getting-even behaviours from the child.
• Can increase sibling animosity when used to curb sibling conflict.
• Ignores the child’s feelings that led to the misbehaviour.
• Is a barrier to parent-child communication.
• Fails to recognize that each child is unique.
• Fails to teach internal controls and self-discipline.
• Fails to teach conflict resolution and thinking skills.
• Fails to teach how to make amends or restitution in solving the problem.
• Fails to teach the child how to self-calm when the child is in a high emotional state.
• Isolates the child, rather than promote connection between the child and the “conflict” person.
• Not “mutually respectful”. Adults do not want to be treated in the same way. In real life, if someone is bothering an adult, they can’t move the person to time-out. They have to take the time-out themselves.
• Gives negative attention to the misbehaviour, which may often increase misbehaviour in attention-seeking children.
• Difficult for extroverts who need to “talk through high emotional states.”
• Label’s the child with unhealthy self-esteem. “The naughty child goes to the naughty step”.
• Increases original and repeat behaviours because the child’s underlying needs or feelings are not addressed.
• Children do not have reflective skills until age seven to understand their role in the preceding behaviour.
• Children often do not know or understand why they are in time-out.
• Often used to help the parent calm down rather than for child’s needs.
• Models power over, not peace with.

Excerpted from: Discipline Without Distress

About Judy Arnall, BA, DTM, CCFE

BA, DTM, CCFE, Certified child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. Keynote speaker and best-selling author of "Discipline Without Distress", "Parenting With Patience", "Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers to Teens", and "Unschooling To University."
This entry was posted in Babies 0-1, General Parenting, Preschoolers 3-5, School-Aged 6-12, Toddlers 1-2 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 123 Time-Out – Know the Risks!

  1. LisaB says:

    I am very happy I found these articles about Judy Arnall and info about “discipline without distress” while searching online. Living in London everybody seem to follow Supernanny and the naughty steps method but it was my own Swedish mother who addressed her concerns about the methods and I am happy she warned me early as my son is only 1. I have been searching and searching online for parenting books that seem to follow a more human approach than the English naughty steps and and rigid time schedules or some kind of magical concepts that seems to be to good to be true. As my partner is British and had a much tougher upbringing than me we really need some simple but healthy advice for us to read together and talk about and I found this book by googling. I have had a look inside which was very helpful. The lay out is simple to follow for scatty parent brains and I have already seen things that made me realize a few things. So I am definitely buying it. I really hope they deliver to UK too!


  2. Cam Abel says:

    Hi Judy, I agree with most of your disadvantages of time outs – for the most part. Where I slightly differ is that I believe that Time Outs are to be used more as a “pattern interrupt” rather than a cure to the underlying problems that caused the undesirable behavior. Absolutely agree that the deeper cause of the issue should be investigated and remedied however the Time Out is perfect for taking away all the attention from the child at the time which also allows both the parent and the child a quick breather and time to relax and regroup. After that, the parent and the child can come back to the issue and sort it out under better circumstances. Everyone is of course different but in my family, my boys calm down very quickly in an attention starved, safe time out almost like taking the fuel away from a fire. Thanks for the opportunity to comment!


  3. Kristi says:

    My daughter has always “requested” time-outs since she was less than 6 months old. She would cry until I put her down and then she could calm herself down. She never sleeps until I put her down wide-awake in her crib. I tried co-sleeping as long as I could, but discovered that she preferred sleeping in her own room and slept much longer than when she was beside me (broke my heart).
    I’m just curious about time-outs for her, because time-ins do NOT work. When I hold her if she falls or something, she screams for a minute but squirms to get out of my arms. I am a very loving mother who is still nursing her and always thought it would kill me not to be able to cuddle my baby, but she just isn’t into it. She is 2 yrs and 4 months now and we have started giving her “Calm Down Time” on the stairs when she gets out of control. I never thought I would use time-outs and really do not want them to have a strongly negative association but I use them because she really does need Alone Calm-Down Time in order to deal with little problems. Sometimes if she’s fussing a lot, she’ll go to her crib and ask to get in so she can calm herself down… cuz she hates being super fussy and doesn’t know how else to stop herself.
    So do you always disagree with time-outs or do you think that using them respectfully for children who thrive on alone-time is okay? What other better methods are there for her, because she doesn’t understand any talking at all yet? Holding her doesn’t calm her either, which I would much prefer.


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