Gentle Parenting

Time’s up for “time outs”

I’m not going to start this blog under the pretence that I have any level of love for “time outs” because frankly, I strongly disagree with the concept!

I dislike the emotional distress it causes and I hate how it interferes with the parent/child connection.

So to explain my stance, here is a quick guide to why I believe “time outs” are negative.

  • One thing I learned when studying psychology is that every behaviour is the display of a need. Instead of addressing the behaviour, address the underlying need and the behaviour will likely resolve.
  • When we punish the behaviour without considering the underlying need we could negatively effect the child/parent connection leading to more undesirable behaviour.
  • Very few children under the age of eight have developed consequential thinking meaning that they have no understanding of the connection between cause and effect.
  • Very few children under the age of eight have a reliable level of impulse control meaning they simply do not have the tools to consider an action before engaging.
  • Time outs teach our children that “sorry” is a “get out of jail card” and can be used without having the emotional development to feel sincere regret.
  • And lastly, young children have not developed emotional regulation. Expecting them to have emotional control without the brain development to manage emotional responses is like asking someone to fly without wings. Forcing them to reflect without the brain maturity to do so can have a negative impact on the child/parent relationship and cause emotional separation.

What we really tell our children when we send them to a time out is that we only want to be with them when they behave in a way we find suitable, leaving little room for error.

“Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I need it the most”

I believe that this is quite unfair. We all wake up to an occasional bad day and although we don’t behave like a two year old (because we have emotional maturity on our side), we might not manage to be our best selves all day and that’s OK.

If I was held to the behavioural standard that some children are I would never leave the the bottom step of my stairs.

When your child is in the middle of an emotional storm and struggling behaviourally; be her calm not her thunder.

The next blog will focus on alternative methods to help children regulate their emotions and positive discipline.


Chapman, Michael and Zahn-Wexler, Carolyn. “Young Children’s Compliance and Noncompliance to Parental Discipline in a Natural Setting.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 5 (982): p. 90.

Hoffman, Martin. (1970) “Moral Development.” In Carmichael’s Manual of Child Psychology, 3rd ed., volume 2, edited by Paul H. Mussen. New York: Wiley.

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4 thoughts on “Time’s up for “time outs”

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