Time Out – Worn Out

One of the Worst Parenting Tools Ever

The use of “time out” is relatively new and has its share of critics and supporters.

Originally, “time out” was intended to isolate or separate (socially exclude) a misbehaving child for a short period of time, usually 5 to 15 minutes, as a calming-down time and to discourage inappropriate behavior.

In our own parenting experience, and also in working with our clients, we realized that

time out was used pretty much exclusively in an attempt to discipline (replaced by “you’re grounded” with older kids). Instead of stopping to assess the situation, then deciding on the best approach or solution, parents habitually press the “time out” button. Most likely, this is due to the fact that unless people deliberately learn effective parenting techniques, they have extremely limited options in their “toolbag”.

We strongly suggest you remove the use of “time out” (“grounding” if your child is a teen) from your parenting toolbox, unless you’re 100% sure that your two-year-old will ultimately play professional hockey, and you want him or her to understand what the “penalty box” is all about.

Bottom line, “time out” doesn’t teach much of anything other than initiating a cycle of revenge.

But don’t you want to teach a lesson? So you say, “You just sit there for 15 minutes and think about what you just did.” Fifteen minutes, really? Have you ever tried to meditate for 15 minutes?

Do you actually believe that when in “time out” your child is thinking,

“Wow, I really messed up this time. I deserve to be here. Actually it should be 20 minutes for what I did. I will strive to do better. I will definitely think through my actions the next time. This “time out” thing is so good for me. I have really learned my lesson. I need to think more about my parent’s needs than my own.”


Your child is much more likely thinking,

“Not fair. Not fair. I don’t deserve this. Next time I have to make sure I don’t get caught. I hate having to sit here. I was just playing, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Besides, it wasn’t my fault. Why do they have to be so mean to me? Just wait. As soon as my time is up, I’ll show them. Plus, I know who told on me and I am going to get them back big time.”

Which of the above matches your own self-talk when you feel unjustly reprimanded?

To break the “time out” cycle, picture in your mind what it would look like for you to respond deliberately, rather than react out of habit, to undesirable behavior. Pay attention to your feelings: such as hurt, frustration, anger or even rage. You might even need to remove yourself temporarily from your child’s presence in order to take some deep breaths, count to ten (or 100), and deliberately think of some things that you do really love and appreciate about your child. Like anything new, it will take practice to become more proficient at being the teacher and mentor you desire yourself to be.


Instead of having your child brooding over the unfairness of the administered “time out”, teach him or her how to self-calm or self-quiet. It’s one of the best things you can do in those escalating situations where behavior becomes quickly intense, and one or both of you are feeling out of control.

Self-calming or self-quieting is not a punishment, but rather a prearranged option.

With your child create a space where they can go to for self-calming.  Have them put items such as crayons, pencils, paper, books, pictures, stuffed animals, music, a pillow or piece of clothing with mom’s perfume or dad’s cologne on it. Involve all of the senses. The items need to be things you agree upon together.

For children who can read, you might have these questions posted somewhere in the space . . .

  • What is the problem?
  • What is my part in the problem?
  • What will I do differently?

Again, this is not a punishment and shouldn’t be set up or administered as one.  Make it more of a suggestion, an invitation.

Initiate by getting down on your child’s level, and in a calm voice say something like, “It looks like you need a break.  Come back when you feel ready.”

If he balks at going, you can ask if he wants to go by himself or would he like you to carry him there (for toddlers).  If there is no answer, either lovingly pick him up and take him there or gently guide him there with your hand on his back with no words from you.

If he follows you back and has calmed himself, let him stay, the goal has been reached. If not, gently and lovingly, return him to his self-calming space without a word.

The best thing you can do is to just be open to the possibilities and your own creativity. There may be times where you say, “Looks like we both need a break. Let’s go for a walk, or make a snack, or play a game.”

Children mimic their parents, so take the lead and model self-calming.  When you feel yourself getting to that point where you might do or say something you wished you hadn’t, announce, “I need a break”, and then take one.  Go and do what’s required for you to calm yourself.

Parenting is probably the most challenging job you’ll ever do.  Our goal is to teach you tools that will assist in being the parent you desire to be, while strengthening the relationship between you and your child.

It’s all about the relationship.

As always, we’d love to hear your comments and encourage you to share this information with a friend.

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