Child Discipline Tips - Why Time Out in Naughty Corner is Wrong

While putting a child in the 'naughty corner' and giving kids some 'time out' by themselves has long been promoted as the best child disciplining strategy, the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has strongly advised against it.

There is growing evidence it may not be good for the child, and may not teach them anything about good and bad behavior, especially for young children under the age of about 3 years.

The fundamental problem with the technique is that the skill of being able to control emotions is something that a child has to learn.

They cannot do this by themselves, and it is part of a child’s development that is learnt from parents and carers.

Punishing a child when they struggle to learn this emotional skill achieves very little as it is clearly the role of the parents and carers to teach them how to control their emotions and what behavior is acceptable or not. It can be a lazy response from the parent and care giver.

This article reviews the various tips for disciplining children that parents and carers should try as alternatives to this strategy.

The common strategy of Time Out in the Naughty Corner is not recommended as children are too young and incapable of reflecting on their emotional outburst.
The common strategy of Time Out in the Naughty Corner is not recommended as children are too young and incapable of reflecting on their emotional outburst. Source: Public Domain

What is Time-Out

Time out involves time away from a rewarding or positive environment as a consequence of some form of misbehaviour or an emotional outburst, usually for 1-5 minutes. It is a separation from the parent or caregiver as well as from the activity in which the child had been involved. Time-out has two goals, an immediate one and a long-term one:

The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc (AAIMHI) published aposition paper on the technique in 2009, strongly advising against the strategy particularly for children under 3 years old, and also warned against the technique for older children.

The reasons given were:

The message associated with the 'time out' is that it’s 'naughty' when a child gets overwhelmed by emotion and to loses control.

Children are sent to the naughty corner until they can behave themselves properly and to apologise.

Because children lack the ability to control their emotions, this response is equivalent to punishing a child with a time out because they cannot ride a bike.

Controlling emotions is a learned skill, just like riding a bike. It is a part of a child’s development and it is the parent's responsibility and role to teach them.

Many parenting support websites and organisations, still promote the use of 'time out' as a way of controlling behaviour and teaching them to cope with emotional outburst.

This is done not as a punishment or as a way to humiliate a children, but as a cooling-off strategy to calm everyone down by separating people from where the incident occurred.

The timeout only occurs for 1-2 minutes and the child always remains in sight of their carer.

For older children (4-6 years old) there is research to suggest that not setting a fixed time works best.

It is left to the child to decide when they have calmed down and have thought about how to solve the problem, and perhaps apologise.

The reported benefits of time out in the naughty are:

What is Wrong with the Time-Out Strategy?

The research that supports using time outs, especially for older children, generally does not consider the emotional impact on the child. Children under three years or age and many older childrenare incapable of self regulating emotionally. They need the support of the parent of caregiver to help them with this, not separation from them and time alone. Consequently the time out may increase a child’s insecurity and distress.

The most effective response to out of control behaviour is for parents and caregivers to understand how the child is feeling and what triggers the response. The parent or carer can then anticipate when problems could occur, plan to prevent them and know how to respond to them. The child needs assurance that the parent or carer is in control and that strong feelings and emotions can be understood and managed. The key way to provide an effective response is that the parent or carer understands the cause behind the behaviour and the emotional response.

Alternatives to Time Out - The 'Time in Parenting' Approach

The method dubbed "time in parenting" was devised by Otto Weininger, a Canadian psychologist in a book of the same name.See: He suggests the exact opposite from a time -out. When a child is upset and haslost control of their emotions and become rude or angry is just the time whenthey need the support and comfort of a safe and accepting adult who is calm, in control of themselves and the situation and is not focused on punishing the child.They need to be with someone who is calm and understands that anyone can get upset and lose control at various times. They also need the support of someone who will recognise these strong feelings and can deal with them appropriately. Young children need to learn how to control and regulate their emotions with the active support of the parent or carer. It is not something they can learn alone.

Weininger makes the following points about exclusionary time out:

He recommends that parents say something like, "I see what you are doing and saying. It seems like you need more help. I am here for you. Let me know when you can manage on your own". The aim is to separate and bring an end the challenging situations such as fighting with friends or siblings so parents can discuss the unacceptable behaviour and help children learn to choose better conduct. "Sending children away to get control of their anger perpetuates the feeling of 'badness' inside them," he says. "Chances are they were already feeling not very good about themselves before the outburst and the isolation just serves to confirm in their own minds that they were right."

He recommends the following alternatives to using time out:

Some Practical Tips and Suggestions