In a brain scan, relational pain — that caused by isolation during punishment — can look the same as physical abuse. Is alone in the corner the best place for your child?Here are some psychologists disagreeing:
Time-out is the most popular discipline technique used by parents and the one most often recommended by pediatricians and child development experts. But is it good for kids? Is it effective? Not according to the implications of the latest research on relationships and the developing brain.
Studies in neuroplasticity — the brain’s adaptability — have proved that repeated experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. Since discipline-related interactions between children and caregivers comprise a large amount of childhood experiences, it becomes vital that parents thoughtfully consider how they respond when kids misbehave. Discipline is about teaching – not about punishment – and finding ways to teach children appropriate behavior is essential for healthy development.
So what about time-outs? In most cases, the primary experience a time-out offers a child is isolation. Even when presented in a patient and loving manner, time-outs teach them that when they make a mistake, or when they are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves—a lesson that is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection. Further, it communicates to kids, “I’m only interested in being with you and being there for you when you’ve got it all together.”
Unfortunately, none of the authors’ conclusions regarding the rejection of time-out or the use of “time-in” are directly supported by research evidence, nor do they reflect a clear understanding of correctly implemented time-out.Maybe so, but Decades of carefully controlled studies also support the efficacy of spanking when used correctly.
Decades of carefully controlled studies support the efficacy of time-out when used correctly with regard to the child’s developmental and emotional status and in the context of a broader behavioral management program. Time out appropriately used involves explaining to the child during a non-crisis time how and why the procedure is being used. At the end of the time out the child should be praised and rewarded for following the procedure, a parent hug works well at this point—akin to what Siegel and Payne Bryson refer to as Time In.
I am just trying to follow the science here, and from what I see, there is very little evidence that any one parenting strategy is better than any others. I have my preferences, but I cannot prove that they are best. The so-called experts who try to tell us what is best are not following the science.
This NPR This American Life podcast discusses a related problem in schools:
Stories of schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There's no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there's evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids.