The article (written by Daniel Siegel, M.D., author of "The Whole Brain Child") argues that isolating a child during a time when they are having difficulty regulating their behavior is detrimental. He argues that rejection and isolation threaten the connection between the parent and child, a connection which he (and most other child development experts) believe is critical to effective discipline and raising healthy children. You can read the full article here.
The article provoked a strong reaction from other child development experts, who strongly disagree that Time-Out should be considered ineffective or detrimental. In a response to the article, the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology published a response that argued that decades of research has supported time-out as an effective and safe discipline strategy (at least when used properly). Dan Siegel also published a response to criticism of his original article, which acknowledged that time-out is not inherently ineffective or detrimental, but that many caregivers use the technique in a way that does not optimize its success, and in some cases could be detrimental to the child.
So with all this controversy, what is the verdict? There are some points that everyone seems to agree on:
1) Time-Out is a broad term - for time-out to be effective (and to help foster healthy parent-child relationships) it needs to be done correctly.
2) Time-Out should not be done out of anger. For any discipline strategy to be most effective (and to avoid weakening your relationship with your child), it needs to be done in a calm, firm, loving manner. When you discipline your children out of anger, you are modeling poor emotion regulation.
3) Time-Out is a teaching method. It can be used to teach children that inappropriate behaviors have a consequence, as well as teaching them that the appropriate behaviors will be rewarded (e.g., with attention or praise). It can also teach children how to regulate their emotions (but only if done correctly - if done incorrectly, Dan Siegel argues that it can actually have the opposite effect).
4) Praise and positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior is just as important (if not more important) than punishing inappropriate behavior. In fact, positive reinforcement of desired behavior is the most effective way to modify your child's behavior.
5) Building a supportive and nurturing parent-child relationship is critical to child development. Without this relationship, children experience many negative outcomes (no matter how well behaved the child may be!)
So, what does all of this mean for parents? Here are a couple of pointers to use when developing your own discipline strategy for your children:
- Whatever discipline strategy you choose, do some research (or seek consultation) on how to use that technique most effectively.
- Avoid disciplining when angry. Discipline is about teaching your child. In particular, teaching them to regulate their behavior and emotions. If you cannot regulate your own emotions/behavior, your child is unlikely to learn these skills.
- Think of discipline as a teaching strategy: you are teaching children that when they choose a misbehavior there is a consequence, and when they choose appropriate behaviors there is a reward (note: this doesn't mean material rewards, but things like praise, feelings of accomplishment and pride, or some other natural positive outcome).
- Don't forget to focus on the positive. One of the most powerful ways to shape behavior is to teach your children what TO DO. This can be done by focusing on and praising them for good behavior, which will increase the chances that those good behaviors will occur again.
- Remember that children are not born knowing how to regulate their behavior or their emotions. Some children may need more help than others in learning these skills. Children (contrary to how it may seem) are most often not be trying to "be bad", they may be genuinely having difficulty regulating behavior or emotions.
- Focus on strengthening the Parent-Child relationship. Forming a strong bond with your child (which we sometimes lose sight of when we have become so focused on dealing with misbehavior) is one of the most important aspects of parenting.
- Help your child learn to label emotions and to cope with their emotions. Help children put words to how they are feeling (e.g., "I can see you are very upset that you have to clean up your toys and get ready for bed. You are having so much fun, it's hard to stop. I know its hard, but it's important that we get to bed on time").
- If nothing works, seek help. If you have tried to use effective discipline strategies and nothing is working, it may be that your child/family needs some additional help. Every child is different, and the same technique will not work for every child and parent. There may also be underlying emotional factors that are driving your child's behavior, and it is important to determine what these factors are.