The Ugly Truth About Time-Outs

I made the decision early on that I would not hit my kids, but I wanted to find effective ways to ensure that as parents, we instilled disciple to help our kids develop well and learn the right types of behaviours.

To do this, I looked for help with popular parenting techniques and became well versed in the art of time-outs or the naughty corner.

My kids knew that no matter where we were, mom could find a naughty corner, so listening and doing as they were told were always important.

The truth is, they were perceived by observers as great kids, because they always obeyed, which stroked my ego and made me feel like a great mom.

This continued until one day I was walking away from my then 3-year-old crying son, who had just been placed in time-out. I realised that I didn’t feel good inside. In fact I was feeling pretty awful about leaving my little boy sitting in a corner all by himself crying, and I felt an urge to go pick him up.

That day I decided to explore the real effects of time-outs, not based on popular opinions but based on research and the goals I had for my kids. The research was clear but eye-opening. It made me question all the popular parenting techniques I was using at the time.

Here’s the ugly truth…

In his book Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn identifies that the nature of many of our current parenting techniques, including naughty corners, is that of control.(If you missed my article on the history of these control techniques click here).

In Kohn’s article titled Parental Love with Strings Attached;he shows that techniques like naughty corners send the wrong message to our kids… “I love you, but only when you’re well-behaved (or successful in school, or impressive to other adults, or quiet, or thin, or deferential, or cute . . .).

In effect, we’re given tips in conditional parenting, which comes in two flavours: turn up the affection when they’re good, and withhold affection when they’re not. “

Shouldn’t we be sending a different message? Shouldn’t we be saying to our kids, I’ll love you no matter what? No matter what, I’ll always be here for you? I know this is how I want my kids to feel.

While naughty corners appeared to get me the short term results I was after, obedient kids that behaved how I thought they should; I wanted to look in greater detail at the effects.

First let’s look at what goes through a child’smind as he sits in the naughty corner.Here is Kohn’s take on this…


In his book The Complete Secrets of Happy Children, Steve Biddulph points out wittily that time-outs have saved many children, as they allowed parents to cool off (who is really in need of a time out here? I take mom time-outs every time I think I’m too steamed up to talk calmly).

Biddulph shows us that the reasons time-outs don’t work as a discipline method is because “it doesn’t involve teaching or thinking about change.”

For me, the turning point was discovering that naughty corners and timeouts—while being ineffective at discipline—can also be counterproductive.

1. These techniques work best when we are there, but do very little for helping our kids develop the inner guidance needed to choose appropriate behaviour when we are not around.

  1. They make the child believe he or she is naughty and damage self-esteem. Children first see themselves through your eyes, and this is the basis for their self image, so if they think you see them as naughty, that is what they will believe about themselves.
  2. Separating children when there is a problem does not teach them what they should do. What it does teach them is that when there is a problem, people should separate and deal with it by themselves, rather than help each other to learn to do better.
  3. Making children say ‘sorry’ to get out of the naughty corner when they don’t feel sorry helps to teach them to tell lies and to manipulate. Children need to learn to say ‘sorry’ if they really feel sorry, not just to achieve an end.

If naughty corners and control techniques are failing us,what then?

How do we instil a sense of discipline, guide our kids to make great choices based on good values and morals, and maintain a great relationship with them all at the same time?

Recognise that as parents we have options, and these are not limited to the parenting techniques that we grew up with, or those that have been made popular by the media.

Explore methods that help you to work with your kids to tackle emotional development rather than those that focus your efforts on doing things to your kids.

One such approach is the Guidance Method. Read more about it here.

We can guide our kids with gentle encouragement to develop the self discipline needed to make good decisions whether we are right there with them or not.

Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Make today great!


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The Ugly Truth About Time-Outs

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