“Time Out” Does Kids More Harm Than Good, Says Expert - Hope 103.2

“Time Out” Does Kids More Harm Than Good, Says Expert

Pop-parenting coaches like Supernanny have made “Time Out” a popular go-to for stressed-out mums and dads. But Dr Justin Coulson says its no good for kids.

By Clare BruceTuesday 1 Mar 2016Hope MorningsParentingReading Time: 5 minutes

Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats about the practice of Time Out with Emma Mullings.

Thanks to pop-parenting coaches like Supernanny, “Time Out” has become one of the parenting staples of our time.

It’s a quick solution for stressed-out mums and dads who are desperate to turn chaos to calm, and is recommended by many of the world’s most popular parenting programs.

Time out is, of course, the practice of sending your child to their room or the naughty-corner as punishment for their bad behaviour—or a chance to “think about what they’ve done”. If you’re a Supernanny follower, the duration of the time out is the child’s age, in minutes, plus one. For example, a five-year-old gets six minutes.

But parenting researcher and author Dr Justin Coulson is one of a growing group of voices in his field who says time out is no good for kids. He describes it as “forceable isolation”, and says that it:

  • isolates children
  • makes them feel unworthy
  • increases their selfishness
  • causes them emotional pain

How so damaging? In a chat with Hope Media’s Emma Mullings, Dr Coulson explained all.

The Dangers Of Isolating Your Child

Boy sent to naughty corner

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Dr Coulson describes time out as “forceable isolation” and says it’s often motivated more by the parent’s own desire for peace and quiet, rather than the needs of the child.

“When our children are behaving in challenging ways there’s usually some need that’s driving that behaviour,” he said. “How much are we thinking about our children’s needs when we send them to time out?

“Maybe we’re trying to preserve our sanity, or protect another child, but essentially we’re saying to a child “at the time when you have significant needs, I’m going to isolate you, leave you on your own and force you to figure things out for yourself”.

“It makes them feel that they’re unworthy…They don’t sit there and think about how they can be a better child.”

“That’s not a particularly useful strategy for helping children through tough times. It makes them feel that they’re unworthy and that they can never get anything right, and like the people who are supposed to love them the most and support them through difficult times are not there for them.

To help parents understand his point, he asks them to think back to the anger and resentment they felt as a teenager if they were sent to their room. It doesn’t help a child to self-reflect and improve.

“Telling your child to “Go to your room and think about what you’ve done” only results in greater anger,” he said. “Two-year-olds and four-year-olds are very much the same [as teenagers]. They tend to get very angry when we put them in time out as well, it’s just that they’re quite powerless to do anything about it.  They don’t sit there and think about how they can be a better child.”

Time Out Increases A Child’s Selfishness

mother scolds her child

According to Dr Coulson’s research, time out for children promotes a sense of selfishness.

“If I sent a two-year-old or a 12-year-old or even a 22-year-old to their room to think about what they’ve done, what they’re most likely to do is not think about the way they injured their sibling, or the way theft is undermining trust in the family,” he said.

“what they’re going to do instead is think about all the ways they can be sneaky the next time. So we actually push that unwanted behaviour underground.

“And they’re going to think about the great injustice that’s going on in their lives. In fact they’re not going to think about anybody except themselves.”

Unhealthy For A Child’s Brain

Mother angry at daughter

Researchers have discovered, according to Dr Coulson, that the pain that we feel emotionally when we’re isolated, is similar to the pain that we feel physically when we’re hurt.

He said that’s a good reason alone to stop giving time-outs.

“When we’re putting our children in time out we’re actually causing them pain,” he said. “I don’t know too many parents who think that hurting children is a great idea. But when our children bother us we just don’t know what else to do.

“Time out affects our children’s brains in negative ways. It creates neural pathways that are unhealthy for them.”

A Better Approach – Two Basic Steps

In Dr Coulson’s view, time out is a form of punishment, and there’s a big difference between punishment and discipline.

“Punishment is about hurting people,” he said. “Discipline, if you look it up, is about teaching good ways to act. It’s about helping our children, guiding them, instructing them. You might even call it problem-solving.”

Step 1 – Help Your Child To Be Calm

Mother and daughter chatting

When your child is doing the wrong thing and chaos is escalating, the first step is to help them be calm, Dr Coulson says.

“There’s no point trying to have a thoughtful conversation with anybody who’s emotional—adult or child,” he said.

For children who are having a tantrum, he recommends parents hug or hold them or, if they don’t want to be held, instead sit quietly nearby and let them know you’re available for a hug as soon as they are ready. “This will often make the greatest difference,” he says.

Step 2 – Help Them To Problem Solve

Problem solving is the key to good discipline according to Dr Coulson.

“When they are calm, maybe 10 minutes later, maybe the next morning, maybe that night, you might say, “hey remember that big outburst an hour ago? We really need to have a chat about that – can we do that now?” And then you start to problem solve,” he said.

“Ask them, “what brought that on?”, “why were you so upset?”, “how can I help you?”, “what can we do next time to make sure that doesn’t happen?”

“When we have that problem-solving, teaching, guiding, instructing approach to discipline, our children become much more malleable, thoughtful of others, able to take the perspective of others. And the likelihood of them continuing with their challenging behaviour is tremendously decreased.

More Info

  • Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting speaker, author and researcher, and founder of happyfamilies.com.au.