Why We Need to Stop Giving Kids Time-Outs

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

Step #1: Be a first responder.
When our kids are behaving unacceptably, we’re like first responders to an accident: there to help, not judge. Imagine a paramedic screaming at a drunk driver who has multiple fractures, “I’m not going to help you. You deserve this! You should never drink and drive!”

Step #2: Signal acceptance.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do when your child is acting out is to let them know you still love them. Anything like, “I can see you’re having a rough time, and I want to help” can signal to them that a confident, competent grown-up is on the scene.

Step #3: Soothe.
Before children can think about their behavior or problem solve, they need to be calm. Every child is soothed differently. For some, just signaling our acceptance helps. Others respond to being physical comforted whereas others may need space, knowing we’re close by when they are ready to talk. Some need a good cry. And some need to suck their thumbs or snuggle with a blanket. Sometimes just naming how they’re feeling hits the spot, “You’re furious because it doesn’t seem fair. You were patiently waiting and she just cut the line.”

Step #4: Problem solve and be creative.
Just because we’re grown-ups who are annoyed, embarrassed or mad, doesn’t mean the way we want our kids to behave is the only viable solution. There are many ways to solve a problem. Let’s say our kids aren’t sitting quietly at a nice restaurant. Instead of threatening a time out, we can bring in coloring books or an action figure to play with. Or let them play outside until the food is served. Or we change the conversation to a topic they would find engaging. Or we may realize they’re simply too young for such a grown-up environment.

I get the appeal of time outs. Unfortunately, a one-size fits solution can never work. Humans are complicated, and each of us is unique. The reason a child is acting a certain way may be as obvious as someone grabbed her toy and she’s mad, or it may be more complicated. Maybe dad has been out of town and the child misses him, worries about him, and feels left behind, so takes her feelings out on mom. Parenting is not a science, it’s an art form. One that benefits from sensitivity and a profound respect for the child as an individual with his own valid experience. It also requires patience, a passing understanding of how the brain works, and some serious trial and error.


Originally published on Good Housekeeping.

This excerpt was adapted from ParentSpeak: What’s Wrong With How We Talk to Our Children-And What to Say Instead with permission from Workman Publishing Company. BUY IT ON AMAZON.

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