Why Parents Should Stop Using Time-Outs for Disciplining Youth

girl-1252739_1280Time-outs have been a technique used for disciplining youth for generations. When this tool for disciplining youth was proposed by Montrose Madison Wolf, he intended for it to teach youth appropriate social behaviors based on responses from adults. The method involved youth receiving adult attention based on their behaviors. An adult would withhold attention for inappropriate behavior—which would punish the child with social isolation (a time-out) for unacceptable behavior.

The Common Day Time-out

Now, time-outs are being overused or condensed to actual or threatened social isolation. A time-out today, consists of a child being sent to another room or specified place for a period of time, separated from the parent or other children. Rather than resort to physical punishment or verbal aggression, the time-out separates the child from the parent. This allows the parent and child to cool off and regain control or assess their behavior, and change it.

The common day time-out for disciplining youth is unintentionally conveying that parents are unable to contain their own feelings and tolerate their own negative responses—anger, embarrassment, or distress—to the child’s behavior.  A parent’s good intention to help the child gain perspective on their behavior via a time-out, may actually by causing psychological damage and hinder youth from learning essential communication skills.

The Emotional Effects of Time-outs

Disciplining youth via time-outs can be absorbed just as poorly as physical punishment. Social isolation and rejection, as with physical punishment, are experienced as shame. Shaming experiences lead youth to believe they are bad, instead of their behaviors being bad. In order to cope with shame, youth often respond by attacking oneself, attacking others, withdrawal or avoidance.

Shame is an important emotion for youth to experience in order to build an understanding of appropriate behaviors. Though, parents regularly disciplining youth through time-outs can cause chronic exposure to shame and empathic failures—which can result in youth’s inability to regulate emotions, development of narcissistic traits as well as shame-based anxiety or depression.

Disciplining vs. Punishment

Disciplining youth is different from punishing youth. Time-outs are a punishment, along with physical or verbal aggression. Time-outs teach youth to separate themselves from others and from the problem, rather than communicating to work it out. Instead of separating youth from parents during time-outs, children need to remain connected. We learn through our connection with significant others in life, through this connection we build an understanding of how our behavior negatively impacts others.

Instead of teaching children to isolate themselves or others when conflict occurs, we need to teach them how to communicate about their emotions. Disciplining youth involves re-directing a child in an effort to teach them an appropriate response to what they feel. Helping them use words to describe what they need, listening to what the child is trying to convey verbally or through action, are all ways to promote youth learning the tools needed to effectively communicate.

Asheville Academy Can Help!

Asheville Academy, a residential treatment center in a traditional school setting for girls 10-14, helps teen girls struggling with anxiety, depression and other emotional and behavioral issues. If your daughter is struggling with behavioral issues that are wreaking havoc on your household, consider sending her to Asheville Academy, a therapeutic boarding school. With a caring staff and a clinically based program, Asheville Academy can help your daughter feel comfortable with school.

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