Why We Need to Stop Giving Kids Time-Outs

Photography: Katherine Heise

By Jennifer Lehr

Timing, they say, is everything.

I was born in 1969, around the time when spanking was starting to get a bad rap and time-outs were being touted as a way parents could still put their foot down, but gently. Which is just what my parents did. Whenever I was “throwing a fit” my parents would tell me that I could act however I liked, just as long as I did it in my room.

And off I was sent.

My guess is they were doing their best to parent from an enlightened place. After all, my feelings were welcome and certainly no one was spanking me. I was simply being given the time I obviously needed to cool down and when I was ready to be civilized, I could rejoin the family.

Alone in my room, I’d scream louder and longer to prove just how distraught I was. Even when I was totally spent, I’d stay put to punish them in the only way I knew how: by depriving them of my company. Alas, no one seemed to care. Venturing back out was always painful. Everyone acted as if nothing had happened – “Hi, honey!” – so I did my best to act as if I hadn’t just ridden a scary emotional rollercoaster all alone.

It’s not surprising then, some 30 years later when I became a mom and would overhear a parent threaten or give a time out, that I’d have an intense, visceral response. While I could certainly identify with the frustrated parent – Who couldn’t? Parenting is hard! – I’d also deeply empathize with the child. There’s got to be a better way! I’d lament to myself. What did surprise me, however, was when, at my daughter’s 18-month wellness check-up, her doctor informed me, “Now’s the time to start using time outs when she misbehaves. I suggest one minute for every year. Even if she won’t stay put, ignore her for the full time. She’ll learn.” Who died and made him a relationship expert? I wondered but said nothing.

How, I needed to know, do other experts weigh in on time outs?

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