Using Time Outs

Time-outs are one of the most used and often misused tools in the parenting toolbox. The most popular misconception is that time-outs are used as a form of punishment (i.e. “If you don’t stop hitting your brother I’m going to put you in a time-out.)” But this can actually encourage misbehavior by giving attention to an unwanted behavior. Dr. Bronwyn Charlton, parenting expert from the seedlings group and mother of two gave us some clarification on when and how to use the time-out effectively.

Even though you may feel like punishment works, it usually only curbs the behavior for the short term. As your child adapts to your punishment, unwanted behaviors tend to return faster. Indeed, time-outs aren’t teaching tools, but rather serve only to stop the misbehavior momentarily and remove your child from the situation; a time-out from attention. Time outs should only be used in instances of aggression (either physical or verbal). Save your time-outs for aggressive behaviors and your “No’s” for potentially dangerous situations. If you give attention to a positive behavior it will increase and if you give attention to a negative behavior it will also increase, so pay attention to the behaviors that you want to see more of. Rather than telling your child what you don’t want her to do, identify what you do want her to do, and let her know. Teach your 2-year-old how to react calmly to not getting what she wants, by using positive reinforcement (through specific praise) when you catch her being calm. For example, when you expect your child to tantrum and she doesn’t, give her positive and specific feedback like, “You were so calm when I told you that we had to leave the park!” Praise will make it more likely she will react calmly to something else in the future. The trick is to catch your child being good.

— Dr. Bronwyn Charlton received her doctorate in developmental psychology from Columbia University. She was also a research scientist at New York University, and has worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center with the Early Intervention Group. Bronwyn is a co-founder of the seedlingsgroup, a team of child development experts and psychologists that help parents navigate the challenges of raising a happy, healthy child. In addition, Bronwyn is certified in parent management training from the Yale Parenting Center and is the mother of two.