Why Time-Outs Don’t Work

Do you keep asking yourself; why time-outs don’t work?

Does it feel like not matter what you do, your kids just won’t listen? 

You’ve put them in time-out and they either scream, cry or maybe even laugh? All to get out of time-out and do it all again? 

Cue exhausted parents who are sick and tired of the same old shit!

Let’s dive into the nitty gritties of why time-outs don’t work. To begin, time-outs have been around for over 50 years. They were one of the first parenting tactics or types of punishment parents used to get their kids to behave or listen. As time has gone on, ideas around parenting have shifted and time-outs just don’t work!

You might be saying,

“Well, I use time-outs al the time and my kids will sit there and stop.” 

If this is you, then I challenge you to ask yourself;

“After a time-out does the behavior go away for good or does it seem to repeat itself day in and day out?”

Time-outs give short term results

If you have put your kids in time-outs over and over because you’ve told them:

  • not to throw food
  • stop hitting your sister
  • no back-talking
  • pick up your toys
  • don’t get out of bed
  • brush your teeth

I challenge you again to ask yourself,

“After the time-out, does my child stop the behavior, know how to do what I need them to do and next time they do it?” 

I’m guessing you answered NO and that’s why you repeatedly have to put your child back in time-out. There are two main reasons time-outs don’t work; shame and lack of teaching.

Shame Causes time-outs not to work

When you send your child to time-out after they’ve done something you don’t like or aren’t happy with, they know it. You might be yelling, screaming or sharing your disapointmnent with them; otherwise known as shaming. Your parenting style can actually encourage unwanted behaviors.

Shame is not an effective teacher. Scientists have proven the brain’s response to the emotional pain of shame is actually very  similar to the brain’s response physical pain or abuse. When you put a child in time-out as a way to communicate your disapproval or displeasure, shame is a direct result. At this point shame takes over and your goal to stop the original behavior is no longer the focal point.

SHAME is not a teacher

As your child sits in time-out crying, moping or feeling badly, you hope it’s about the unwanted behavior, but they’re not. Iinstead what they are feeling or focusing on is

“I am so bad. Mommy and Daddy don’t like me. I can’t do anything right. I’m always in trouble.”

These thoughts and feelings during a time-out are more about who they are as a person rather than the goal of the time-out to help them think about the behavior you’re trying to stop.

The definition of punishment: anything that cuases your child blame, shame or pain

Time-outs cause a child’s confidence to decrease and in turn, brings about a spark of revenge. When your child’s self-worth is negatviely affected they can begin to exhibit signs of anger. At this point they may decide that they want revenge and to get back at you. They will work to show you who’s boss! Trying to gain back power, which means more unwanted behaviors.

Not your goal with the time-out.

Again, why time-outs don’t work.

Time-outs don’t work to teach lessons

Time-outs don’t work because they are a short term band-aid fix. Yes, your child sits for a few minutes and maybe they aren’t throwing food or hitting in that moment, but when the timer buzzes and they’re free to get up, they’re right back where they started and this time they are back with a vengeance.

Watch out!

Take time-out to calm down

When used as a positive tool, however, a time to calm down can be an effective way to coach and teach a child through the process of emotional self-control and improving behavior.

Instead of the words time-out, try using the words calm down.

So what makes these different?

Your goal with time-outs are:

  • To teach your child a positive lesson
  • To get the unwanted behavior to stop and
  • For them to understand why they can’t do the undesired actions.

In order for these three things to happen you need to make sure that you have set your child up to listen and communicate with you.

The first way you do this is by removing all SHAME.

Instead of sending your kids to time-outs, which don’t work, try asking your child if they need a little bit of time to CALM DOWN.

Don’t force them. It’s okay for you to sit with them if they choose to have you help them calm down.

Remember, you’re their teacher and guide. Not their enemy. You are trying to stop a behavior from reoccuring and therefore you need to be the positive teacher and role model.

Effective Calm Down’s teach your child lessons

Once your child is calm and has time to slow their heart rate and calm their tears, it’s now time for you to teach them life-long lasting lesson.

  1. First connect, then direct. “I love you very much and I’m sorry you’re upset. I am here to help in any way I can.”
  2. Describe what happened, and label feelings involved. “Sam, I see you keep throwing toys. I know you’re excited, but we can’t throw the toys.”
  3. Ask/Describe what would be a better choice. “When we throw the toys they can break or someone could get hurt. How do you think we should set the toys down? Yeah, gently on the ground.” 
  4. Involve the child. “Sam, together, let’s pick up the toys and put them where they belong.”
  5. Reiterate the desired behavior. “Please remember to not throw your toys and play with them gently like we practiced.”
  6. Child goes back to playing.
  7. You must Believe he/she can succeed.
  8. Be there to support, guide and teach.

Teaching, practicing and role modeling

When a child makes the same mistake again don’t get upset. Instead offer another opportunity to calm down and repeat the above process. Very young children typically need multiple learning opportunities to develop independent skills. If  the behavior keeps occuring you may need to redirect.

“Sam, we have already talked about how to play with your toys and how throwing toys is not safe for you or the toys. We are going to put those toys away for now and do something else. We can try again tomorrow.” 

Positive Discipline tactics instead of time-outs

Teaching your kids life-long lessons takes time and patience. Trust me when I tell you, that being your child’s support and working to build thier confidence and self-esteem will give you the results you desire. Punishment, blame and shame will leave you running faster and faster around that hamster wheel. Wondering as you huff and puff, “why the hell time-outs don’t work?”

Remember to time-out to calm down to create teaching opportunities for your child to learn life lessons and develop coping skills.

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