In Defense of Time Outs


A girl sitting in time out.In a world dominated by gentler parenting, I would like to defend good old-fashioned time outs. 

Do I think gentle parenting and related theories work? Not particularly. At least not with younger children. Examining feelings, calm-down cushions, creating a partnership with your child, and not saying “no” isn’t the best for my two-year-old who just threw his sister’s plate because he couldn’t have her veggie sticks. 

For those situations, I am firmly team “no” and team time out. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and our pediatrician agree. Time out or similar practices are very effective for curbing problem behavior.

Time outs, when done correctly, work well at making a “bad” behavior not fun. Below are some tips for successful time outs.

Timing is everything.

The length of the time out depends on the child’s age. A minute per year of age is appropriate. For example, a one-year-old should only be in time out for a minute. 

It is not a reward.

Time out is a form of discipline. So it’s not time to cuddle with mommy or have a long conversation. My pediatrician recommended a boring corner for them to face and sit in silence. Taking them away from a situation and away from any interesting stimulus. 

Keep explanations short and age-appropriate.

Set a firm boundary before the time out with an expectation of the result. Do not threaten a time out unless you are willing to follow through. Once your kiddo has finished their time out, reinforce the expectation. For example, “Ok, all done, we do not use our hands to hit.” And that’s it! Back to playing. 

I know there’s probably a legion of moms getting their angry typing fingers on. But time-outs are evidence-based, they work, and they are not harmful to your child. Do they work with every kid? No! Every kid and every family is different. But it is a tried and true method. 

The pendulum, in my opinion, has swung too far towards a looser boundary, let kids run the show parenting trend. Kids push boundaries, but boundaries are necessary for healthy development and to let kids feel safe. 

As a millennial mom sick of hearing how badly we were parented, I find myself defending old-fashioned parenting, including using time outs. Maybe, just maybe, old-school works for a reason.


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