Time Outs - the removal of a child for a short period from a situation in which he or she is acting out - have been a popular tool recommended by doctors and child psychologists since the term was first coined in the 1950s. There have been many studies proving the effectiveness of Time Outs in improving behaviour, and the idea is that many behaviours are fueled by attention, so by withdrawing attention from negative behaviour parents can, over time, extinguish it.
However an article published in 2014 in Time magazine by Drs Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson wrote: "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."
The article refers to studies in neuroplasticity that show that relational pain (i.e. rejection) can look similar in brain imaging to physical pain (i.e. stubbing your toe). This has created a modern backlash against Time Outs, with positive and gentle parenting practitioners saying that a child's 'acting out' is a cry for connection, so to reject them is the opposite of what they need and encourages the child to internalise their feelings, which can have damaging consequences in the long run.
The positive parenting technique of 'Time In', whereby you offer connection and support for a tantruming child, has become a mainstream alternative to Time Outs, although many child experts remain on the fence and question how realistic this is.
There's still much more research to be done, but for the time being, doing what feels right to you is best.
No such thing as a 'naughty' child?
In many people's minds, most likely because of the way they were treated as children, there is the idea that children cry or tantrum to manipulate adults, but it’s important to remember that's not the case, says Hand in Hand Parenting instructor Zsuzsanna Egry: "When our child cries in the store for another toy, we think he or she is trying to force us to buy it. But the truth is that this behaviour has nothing to do with manipulation or wanting to achieve a goal. Crying and tantruming are inborn, natural ways of getting rid of tension and bad feelings. So when a child starts crying because of a toy that we say 'no' to, he is crying because he is disappointed, and through crying he is getting rid of that disappointment. We do not have to buy the toy for the crying to stop. We just need to listen through the crying and understand that this is his or her way of releasing the tension."
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Image by Michal Parzuchowski at Unsplash