The phrase "time-out" has been part of our parenting lingo for years. But some parents feel that a time-out not only punishes a behavior, but isolates the child. What else can we do?
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One of the hardest parts of parenting is having to discipline your child. No matter how even-tempered or well-behaved she is, there will always be times when your child needs to be reminded about proper behavior. Time-outs have been a popular form of discipline for years, but are they falling out of favor with modern parents?

What's wrong with time-outs?

Using time-out as a method of discipline seemed simple enough — and easy to enforce anywhere. The parent would remove the child from the scene where the misdeed was happening, isolate them from the group and tell them to stay there for a set amount of time, many parents choosing a minute for every year of age. Once the time-out was over, the child was allowed to return, like a do-over. Sounds easy enough, what's the problem?

Time-out is intended to be a brief chance for the child to calm himself, and for the adult to briefly stop responding. "Time-out isn't a chair, it isn't a corner, it's not a length of time," says Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., a pediatrics professor who actually helped pioneer the technique in the 1970s. "It's supposed to be time out from positive reinforcement," he says. "As soon as the concept became a chair, it was ruined."

What mistakes are parents making when doling out a time-out?

  • Sending the child to a time-out chair — That chair in the corner? Not necessary, especially in that it equates sitting in the chair with being "bad" and does nothing to help the child deal with her emotions.
  • Making time-outs equal to one minute for every year of age — Penelope Leach, Ph.D., is a British child psychologist who disagrees with this simplistic formula. "A time-out is meant to give a child a break from a situation that has overwhelmed him into unacceptable behavior," she says. "The sooner the child can get back in charge of his emotions and join the rest of his family, the better." The arbitrary minute per year of age leaves no room for the child to learn to control his emotions in his own time frame.
  • Talking to the child before, during and after the time-out — One of the ideas behind time-out was for the parent to briefly stop responding to the child's wails or demands. But many parents continue to speak to the child before the time-out, during the time-out and after, meaning that there was truly no separation from the parent. Lecturing during and after the time-out just reminds the child of the struggle, but doesn't really teach them anything.
  • Hanging onto them as a discipline method when kids are too old — There comes an age when the time-out itself has run its course, and is no longer effective. By the age of 6 or 7, what works better with kids is taking away a privilege for a bit of time.

What's a time-in?

So if we aren't using time-outs as they were intended, what should we be doing instead? Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. and author of the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, recommends that parents try a time-in instead. "This signals to your child that you understand she's got some big emotions going on and you're right there with her," she shares on her site Aha! Parenting. Whether your child is winding up to an epic meItdown or just needs a few minutes to snuggle and regroup, having you there with her makes her feel safe and helps her regain control of her emotions.

Whether your child is winding up to an epic meItdown or just needs a few minutes to snuggle and regroup, having you there with her makes her feel safe and helps her regain control of her emotions.

"Once the meltdown starts and your child is swept with emotion, it's too late for teaching," Dr. Markham shares. "Don't try to talk or negotiate or convince him of anything — he's in 'fight or flight' emergency mode and the thinking parts of his brain aren't working right now. Just stay nearby so you don't trigger his abandonment panic, and stay calm," she adds. "Don't give in to whatever caused the meltdown, but offer your total loving attention."

Share with us!^ What do you think? Do time-outs work in your family?

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