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The Disadvantages of Using Time-Out as a Child Punishment

By Nicole Campbell ; Updated June 13, 2017

As spanking children becomes less and less acceptable as punishment in this society, parents are looking harder for alternative and better ways to discipline their children. Placing children in a “timeout” is growing in popularity every day, but just as spanking has its drawbacks, so does placing children in a timeout. While it appears much less devastating to a child at the time than physical punishment, a timeout may not be all its cracked up to be, either.

Feeling Unloved

According to Aware Parenting founder Aletha B. Solter, Ph.D., in her paper, “The Disadvantages of Time Out,” she says that “nothing is more frightening to a child than the withdrawal of love.” By placing a child in a timeout away from you and the rest of the family, it is easy to make a child feel like he has done something undeserving of your love. By separating your child from the other members of the family when he has done something wrong, it is easy for your child to feel like his poor behavior is worth the “withdrawal of love” for an extended period of time.

This feeling can be devastating to a child, and is one of the most significant consequences of using timeout as a method of punishment. According to Solter, the isolation can translate into “nobody wants to be with me right now. I must be bad and unlovable.”

The Wrong Message

When considering the disadvantages of using timeout as a punishment for a child, it is also important to consider the message that you want to send your child. While parents may intend for a timeout to be time for them to consider their actions, it isn't always viewed this way by the child. This type of punishment may send the child the message that seclusion and time away is a bad thing, and only to be used when they have done something wrong. Timeouts do not teach conflict-resolution skills, but rather the opposite -- that withdrawal from the situation will make things better.

Not Always for the Kids

Timeouts aren't always designed for the good of the children involved. While the original idea behind them as a form of discipline was to utilize positive and negative reinforcement with children and their behavior, timeouts are often used as a way for parents to calm down when their children have misbehaved. While there is nothing wrong with a parent taking the time to calm themselves, in this case the idea of timeout is not for the good of the children, but for the good of the parents.

It Stops Working

There is a glaringly obvious problem with timeouts: eventually, they stop working. While sending a 6-year-old to a corner may be easy, sending a 16-year-old to a corner won't. It is important for children to learn other ways of dealing with the consequences of their bad behavior, because the seemingly simple solution to bad behavior that timeouts provide is only temporary, and may seem ridiculous for use in older children.

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