CNN Parenting

Time is up for timeouts

Story highlights

  • A timeout is basically abandoning your kid when they need you most
  • When you remove the option of distance and solitude, you have no choice but to engage

Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. Share your insight at the CNN Parenting Facebook page.

(CNN)Without meaning to, my wife and I conducted an A-B experiment while disciplining our two children. They are 4½ years apart, and somewhere in that gap -- thanks to the suggestions of the progressive, mindful parenting books we regularly consume -- we did away with the popular refuge of nearly all parents (probably since the dawn of time): the "timeout." As some Neanderthal dad probably yelled, "Go to your part of the cave until you've calmed down!"

The arguments for the timeout boil down to: 1. It's better than spanking. (True.) 2. Parents want a little time away from a child's aggravating behavior. (No doubt.)
    Timeouts have been popular for decades and are still recommended by some parenting experts. But it's time to add the timeout to the parental dust bin of history, along with yelling, hitting and missing school in order to help run the farm.
    Here is the fundamental failure of the timeout: It's tantamount to abandoning your kid when they need you most. If they're acting up, it may be to get your attention. If they are upset or angry, they want you to connect with them (even if they push you away). Your calm, listening presence or a long hug -- not isolation -- is what they need to reconnect to their rational brain.

    Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn't face.

    These moments just after upsetting behavior and anger -- yours and theirs -- can move a parent-child relationship closer or farther apart.
    Need some solid social science to convince you? The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study in 1982 (the timeout method hasn't changed since then) that found kids who had timeouts -- or "love withdrawal," as the study's authors also called the method -- were more misbehaved, even when moms in the study talked to their kids after their timeout reflection.
    Premier parenting academic Alfie Kohn has written extensively about the negative effects on a child's moral and psychological development due to timeouts and other love-withdrawal techniques. He cites child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who concluded that timeouts can cause "deep feelings of anxiety."
    And if you're telling yourself a timeout is not a punishment but rather a much-needed break for reflection and self-calming, let me ask you: Does your child think it's a punishment? If so, then it is.
    Describing timeouts in their book "How to Talk so Kids Can Learn," Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish write, "As an adult you can imagine how resentful and humiliated you would feel if someone forced you into isolation for something you said or did."

    What's the alternative?