The effectiveness of Time-Outs (posted not authored)

Raising Excellent Children in an Insane World: Time out!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Last updated: Wednesday December 22, 2010, 10:46 AM

I was channel surfing one night, and came across one of the nanny TV shows (“Supernanny”) just at the moment they were espousing (yet again) the importance of using time-outs. I’ve watched this show, as well as “Nanny 911,” and they both seem to have a fondness for this form of “punishment.”
So do many of the experts. And many of us follow their lead. “During the toddler years, time-out – when used selectively and properly – can be an effective, positive parenting tool,” says child behavior expert Elizabeth Pantley.
“The key to using time-out with this age group is to first understand its purpose: to interrupt a child’s negative behavior with space, time and quiet, the purpose of which is to allow the child to calm down and then re-enter playtime in a more pleasant manner. Conversely, time-out when used as ‘punishment’ is rarely effective, and often escalates negative behavior on the part of the child (and on the part of the parent, who is attempting to keep an angry child sitting still in a chair). Time-out is much more valuable when used to teach self-control rather than when it is used to punish the lack of it.”
Many experts who agree with the use of time-outs say, as Ms. Pantley does, that you don’t want to use it as a punishment, but as a tool to teach self-control. But isn’t it really being used to inflict a penalty or sanction on a child who is not capable of understanding why they are being isolated and told to hold still? To say it should not be a punishment, but rather a self-control tool, seems simply to be calling punishment by another name.
When I watch the nanny shows, it’s clear they are punishing children with a time-out: “If you do x, then the enforcement for disobedience is a time-out.” Many parents I’ve talked with say that in order to make it really work, they have to hold the child in place or stay next to their kids while cajoling them into place. Ultimately, the child is repeatedly put into time-outs.
Here’s Ms. Pantley’s caveat to her embrace of time-outs: “Parents need to know that time-out is only a Band-Aid. While it can succeed in putting a stop to a child’s aggressive or impulsive action, it does not teach a child what he should be doing instead.” So, why do we (and many experts) persist with ideas like time-out?
Knowing it’s only a bandage – one that doesn’t teach a child what they need to know – why continue in this direction? This is part one of a two-part series.Let me know your thoughts on this topic by leaving a comment here.
A Montclair resident, Frank Diaz can be reached at

Do you use time-outs in your home? Are they effective? If not what do you use? Nanny X