Why Time-Outs Don’t Work And What To Do Instead
You come home after a long day. You start cooking dinner in the kitchen when you hear it – the loud sound of a smack. You run into the next room to find your toddler hitting their sibling over the head with a toy.
You’re at your wit’s end, and you just want it to stop!
You take your toddler over to a chair and tell her to sit there for time-out. Now everyone’s crying, upset, and frustrated. Time-out is initiated. The kids are separated. The incident ends…. but there’s no conflict resolution. So, what happens next time?
If you’re finding yourself in the cycle of constant behavior management but never making any real progress, I’m here to tell you — it doesn’t have to be this way.
I became a mom to four kids almost overnight. When I found out my second pregnancy was triplets, I had to figure out how to manage four tiny humans, four separate personalities very quickly.
I learned many important lessons over the years, but one that stands out the most is that you don’t need to make kids feel bad to make them behave better. In fact, the opposite is true.
Many families have already discovered time-outs aren’t effective for changing a child’s behavior. Yet we continue administering them in our most frustrated moments. We’ll do anything to get that coveted moment of silence.
If this is relatable to you, keep reading. We’ll talk about why time-outs don’t provide parents with a viable training tool, and I’ll give you four practical strategies that you can start using today for long-term behavior change.
Why Time-Outs Don’t Work
Some experts do recommend time-outs for behavior management. Certainly, a re-direct or a fresh air breather can do everyone some good.
However, when annoying behavior continues to push our buttons, we need to be prepared with creative solutions that we can count on to modify behavior.
Let’s face it, time-outs are often done as an emotional reaction to a situation that you just want to end immediately.
Rewards and time-outs may be mainstream, but that doesn’t mean families are seeing any permanent positive behavior changes from them.
While raising our four kids, I also noticed that the schools resorted to punishments to keep kids from misbehaving. This usually resulted in educators ramping up threats and taking away freedoms until all kids were compliant rule followers.
I often wondered when they’d realize those tactics simply don’t work. They only invite rebellion.
Restriction Creates Rebellion
Whether you’re a parent or an educator, behavior change happens when you use the strategic leadership tenets of clearly setting expectations, getting child buy-in to your expectations up front, and consistently following through when expectations aren’t met.
With time-outs you miss the chance to connect and transform behavior. Time-outs isolate kids, and create feelings of rejection.1 Sure, the time-out will stop the behavior….temporarily.
It doesn’t stop the behavior from happening again, and most importantly, it doesn’t teach appropriate behavior.
When you get agreement from kids on consequences prior to misbehavior, then hold them accountable using a collaborative partnership approach, the results are pure magic.
Here are four strategies that will work to generate long-term behavior change and most importantly, establish trust and personal responsibility in your kids without punishing.
Four Things You Can Do Instead of Time-Out
Here are some ideas of things you can do instead of a time-out.
Know Your Tripwire
When you change your own behavior, your child’s behavior changes because he’s reacting to your response. Since time-outs are usually an emotional reaction, try asking yourself a few questions before you set your expectations:
- What upsets you?
- What causes that knee-jerk reaction?
- What behaviors are unacceptable in your house?
If your tripwire gets provoked, you’ll likely interpret your child’s behavior as much worse than it is. This causes you to react emotionally, causing an overreaction and doling out unnecessary punishments.
You know the chain of events when this happens. You come downstairs and step on the legos you asked your child to pick up five times already.
You go into a tirade, yelling empty threats to take away their Legos, Nintendo switch, and their allowance for a week.
After you explore what triggers you, write them down. How can you be proactive about these reactions in the future?
Create Consequences That Mirror The Real World
This might be the most effective way to create long-term behavior change. The goal is to guide our children to becoming fully functioning adults who are capable of making their own decisions.
After all, kids are adults in training and should be treated that way. You won’t be able to shuffle your 14-year-old into time-out when they stay out past curfew. Instead, you can allow them to experience natural consequences or create consequences that relate to the misbehavior.
Let’s look at a few examples.
If your kids …
- Don’t eat a meal …. they’ll get hungry
- Don’t take an umbrella…. they’ll get soaked in the rain
- Stay out past curfew…. curfew becomes earlier until trust is earned
Give your children consequences related to their behavior. When the consequence matches the misbehavior, they’ll see the connection, like in the real world. Afterall, bosses don’t put employees in time-out.
Establish A Culture Of Accountability
Achieving long-term behavior shifts includes teaching your kids about honesty, integrity, and responsibility. Holding them accountable for misbehavior is at the center of this.
Punitive punishment and time-outs create feelings of isolation and disconnect with caregivers. What comes next is that you’ve created an environment where kids are just trying not to get caught. Most parents want to raise kids knowing they’re learning how to make the right choice because it’s the right thing to do.
So how do you create a culture of accountability? Here are the essentials:
- Communicate rules clearly up front, not in reaction-mode
- Teach ownership of behavior
- Allow admission of mistakes with no judgment
- Shut down any excuse-making
Kids need to feel safe. They don’t feel safe when they anticipate their parents will get angry, overreact, and punish. Everyone in the home should be following this culture, including you.
Get mutual buy-in to pre-agreed consequences
I love this one. This is where the child becomes the author of their own consequence. Here’s an example of how this works.
Your 13-year-old is supposed to clean their room every week. Despite multiple reminders, they don’t clean their room. You can ask them: “What should happen if you don’t clean your room this week?” They answer: “I won’t be able to go out on Saturday.” If they don’t clean their room, they don’t go out.
Not only does this reinforce a culture of accountability, but they also have a vested interest in changing their behavior. You can learn more about discipline and accountability in my book.
They’ll realize the power is in their hands and they’re in control. The best lesson you can teach your kids is the power to choose their own behavior and help them realize the consequences associated with it.
A parent’s job isn’t to get their kids to believe in right or wrong. Our job is to help our kids experience right from wrong through real-world consequences.
Experiences are the only way kids come to accept right from wrong, and punishments or time-outs do nothing to teach those lessons for real life.
Final Thoughts On What To Do Instead Of A Time-Out
In order to create long-term behavior change in children, it is important to provide real-world consequences that mirror the actions taken. This will help them learn from their mistakes in a safe and effective manner.
Additionally, it is essential to create a culture of accountability within the home to foster honesty, integrity, and responsibility.
With these things in place, it becomes much easier for children to make the right choices when faced with a difficult situation.
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