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Is Timeout an Effective Way to Punish?

Updated: May 26, 2020

"Go to your room!"

"You're on timeout for ten minutes!"

Is timeout an effective way to punish misbehaved kids? The answer is no. But isn't it better than spanking and scolding? The answer remains no. I'll tell you why.

We see teachers and parents putting kids on timeout, hoping to teach them a lesson. Well, it will only teach them the wrong lessons.

Wrong Lessons of Timeout

1. When you put kids on timeout, you are teaching them to avoid the emotions they are feeling. It's like telling your child to deal with his struggles himself, and you're not going to help him with it. Imagine how scary that can be for young kids, to be left alone in a corner, feeling angry, confused and lost.

2. When you put kids on timeout, you are punishing behaviours without addressing the root problems. Children will not learn how to do the right thing if they are not taught how to.

"You hit your brother, and that's wrong! Go to your room now! You're on timeout for ten minutes!"

You are punishing the hitting behaviour by giving him a timeout. But you are not addressing the root problem, which is his anger issues. This anger, if not acknowledged and managed, will escalate into more severe behaviours in the future (bullying in school, hitting friends, drugs, etc.).

3. When you put kids on timeout, they will feel unloved and disconnected.

"mummy hates me, mummy thinks I'm a bad person."

"daddy doesn't love me anymore."

Children will develop a negative self-perception of themselves.

Timeout Replacement Strategies

Here are three ways you can replace timeouts.

1. Stay with your child

When your child is on a meltdown, giving timeouts or any sort of punishment at this point is not going to work. It will only make things worst. Those big emotions can be overwhelming and stressful for young kids. As a parent, the right thing to do is to stay with your child. Let him know you are there for him and that he doesn't have to go through these emotions alone. You do not have to do anything. Just sit beside him or near him, and wait for him to calm down.

"I'm here with you. I'll wait for you to calm down."

See understanding emotions and embrace emotions to learn how to manage children's emotions more positively and effectively.

2. Create a safe zone

You can create safe zones at home/school for children. Safe zones are like calming stations with pillows, bean bags, trampoline and sensory items for children to use as emotion coping tools. Whenever you see your child is about to go into a meltdown, you can bring him to the safe zone. You can stay with him and guide him to cope with his emotions through hugging pillows or jumping on the trampoline - all these activities can help kids release those inner buildup impulses.

3. Communicate

Once your child has calmed down, it is important to communicate and connect with him. Listen to what he has to say about his feelings. Be open-minded and be mindful not to interrupt and dismiss his views.

"You were really angry just now. Do you want to talk about it?"

After he is done expressing, you can reason with him about the angry incident that happened.

Check out the section on this website called Communication for more specifics. Remember parents, you can do this!

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