Why We Need to Stop Giving Kids Time-Outs

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

I turned to the internationally renowned Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and his colleague Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, because they’re experts in the field of interpersonal neurobiology which is the study of how relationships and the brain interact to shape our mental lives. They explain, “Time-outs frequently make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them.”

In fact, Dr. Siegel, Dr. Bryson, and other experts report that time-outs can leave children feeling rejected, unworthy of love, and genuinely scared. This is because, as Dr. Laura Markham explains, time outs can trigger the universal fear of abandonment.

Here’s why: As children, we are utterly dependent upon caregivers for food, shelter and nurture. In order to feel safe, we need to know unequivocally that they will care for us and not leave us – no matter what. If we sense the connection isn’t solid – which a time out is bound to do – we can react as if our very survival is at stake. While our parents know they’d never let anything happen to us, we don’t know that. Why? Because not only wouldn’t they let something happen, they’re causing it to happen.

Perhaps you’re thinking Not my kid! I’ve put her in plenty of time-outs and she’s fine. I believe you. But, unfortunately, detached cooperation isn’t necessarily a good thing. Therapist Susan Stiffelman is particularly concerned when parents report a child doesn’t seem bothered by being sent away. In those cases, she explains, “…it’s crucial that parents heal the damaged connection and restore trust, while creating a climate for their child to express pain, hurt or anger.”

When considering methods of discipline, Dr. Siegel asks parents to consider how they might play out in a child’s future relationships. Personally speaking, despite years of therapy, I continue to suffer from a fear of abandonment in a remarkably text book way. If someone needs space, or even if they just move, it can trigger me to have compulsive thought patterns and behaviors that ultimately push people further away thus confirming my subconscious belief that I am not lovable. Recovery is slow and takes concerted effort.

So, what can we do instead of sending our kids away?

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