Updated: Jun 16, 2022
When I started nannying, time out was my ultimate go-to. I threatened it, and I followed through. Most of the time it made things worse.
After a little research I soon learnt time out has been used historically as a shaming form of social exclusion. It is emotionally painful and is used in the hope of deterring the unwanted behaviour, usually to little or no effect.
During time out the child receives the message;
"Go away from me, I don't want you in my presence, my love is conditional,
and right now you don't deserve it".
At this point the parent - child relationship is compromised because the child feels unworthy and disconnected. When the child is in this state, they are unable to reason; they are in complete survival mode, also known as ‘fight or flight’. They are unable to think about what they have done as they do not have access to the part of their brain that allows them to reason. All they are doing is surviving and looking for safety.
I know what you are questioning:
Don’t they need time out to calm down?
Don't they need to think about what they have done? This is correct, but the child who is sent to time out is not sitting in their room evaluating where they went wrong. Half the time children don't even know why they have done what they have done. They are certainly not learning a lesson in this state, nor are they learning how to regulate their emotions or develop any sort of self-management skills. They feel bad about themselves and therefore their behaviour usually escalates into anger.
It is easier for a child to be angry and lash out than to deal with big feelings.
The anger they are experiencing is driven by fear or shame, and will not be helped by the punitive discipline techniques such as time out.
There are many alternatives to time out, and it is the action that needs to be addressed, not the child. Take them to a cooling down spot and stay with them until they are ready to practice the skill they needed to meet your expectation. This encouragement through positive reinforcement is actually time in, not time out. They will listen and want to please you if they feel they are not in trouble. Take the emphasis off shaming and onto a practical use for their energy.
Next time you feel tempted to use time out, change it for a time in. Support your child through their feelings. Take them aside and give them the help they are desperately seeking. Have a conversation about your expectations and problem solve together. After all, problem solving is one of the best ways to develop emotional intelligence and this is most likely the skill they are lacking.