Most parents have probably heard of time-out and have likely tried it with their children. It is a practice promoted by many parenting experts (including pop culture “experts” such as Nanny 911), and few would describe it as a highly controversial approach. Recently, however, Time Magazine published an article by doctors Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson – sensationally titled, “Time-Out’s Are Hurting Your Child” – that calls the technique into question and even goes so far as to equate it to a form of physical abuse.
In the September 2014 article, Drs. Siegel and Bryson claim that time-out is a form of social isolation and as a result can have a negative impact on a child’s brain development. The authors cite select neuroscience articles to support their argument and advocate for the use a “time-in” that involves comforting and talking to a child after misbehavior. However, none of the articles that Dr. Siegel cites have directly tested this approach, nor does Dr. Siegel reference the decades of research supporting the use of time-out as an effective and humane practice.
As a member of the Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology and its active email listserv, I was able to see the reactions of well-respected experts on child behavior and mental health. Many psychologists noted that, like every behavior management strategy, time-out will not work for every child, but it does work for the vast majority of children when administered correctly. Many voiced concerns that the article may scare parents into abandoning a parenting tool solidly backed by research, leaving them more prone to using harsh or ineffective strategies. In an effort to correct public misinformation that could harm families, several prominent child psychologists drafted a statement voicing their concerns with the article. Below is the formal response sent to Time Magazine. In our next post, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions and video examples of how to correctly use time-out with your child.
“Outrageous claims regarding the appropriateness of Time Out have no basis in science”
We are writing to express strong concern with the article “‘Time-Outs’ Are Hurting Your Child” by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Byrson (9/23/14) which described time-out as “ineffective” and seemingly equated this practice with “physical abuse”. Based on their selective review of recent neuroscientific findings, these authors advocate rejecting the use of time-out in favor of an alternative strategy, “time-in” which they describe a “forging a loving relationship” through sitting or talking with or comforting the child immediately following the child’s misbehavior.
Unfortunately, none of the authors’ conclusions regarding the rejection of time-out or the use of “time-in” are directly supported by research evidence, nor do they reflect a clear understanding of correctly implemented time-out.
Decades of carefully controlled studies support the efficacy of time-out when used correctly with regard to the child’s developmental and emotional status and in the context of a broader behavioral management program. Time out appropriately used involves explaining to the child during a non-crisis time how and why the procedure is being used. At the end of the time out the child should be praised and rewarded for following the procedure, a parent hug works well at this point—akin to what Siegel and Payne Bryson refer to as Time In. While it is possible that “time-in” by itself may be a useful tool for some children in some circumstances, no evidence is available to support this. Thus, broad recommendation of “time in” only is premature, and potentially harmful, in the absence of controlled and replicated research documenting efficacy and safety. It is a disservice to the public to suggest that families try an unproven approach when one with decades of support is available. This isn’t to say that time-out is appropriate for every child or in every circumstance, but it is the place to start. For information on the scientific foundation of Time Out individuals may access a reference list at effectivechildtherapy.com
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