How does it start? Your son has been pushing the limits all evening, and you’ve nearly run out of patience. You’re tired and stressed after a day of work. He’s tired and cranky after a day of school. Finally, he just sweeps his arm across the counter and wipes away the vegetables you were about to start chopping up for dinner.
As the peppers hit the floor, you hit the wall.
“You need a time-out!” you shout and direct him upstairs to his room. “You can sit there and think about what you’ve done!"
He sits there in his room with the door shut and does what exactly? Thoughtfully reflects on the inappropriateness of his behavior and comes to the realization that he must apologize? With his heart full of remorse, he then calls down to you that he acted appallingly and can you please hug it out? Well, if that’s the case, you’re lucky.
Or maybe he does what I did as a kid when sent to my room “to think about my behavior.” Maybe he just sits there and stews, getting angrier and more upset as he’s left alone to deal with his feelings. Maybe he cries or punches something because he’s three or four or five years old and can’t contain himself.
Maybe he was pushing your buttons because he needed your attention and acting out was a way to get that. And maybe when you let him come out of his room again, he feels resentful and less connected to you than before.
They learn that they can trust you with all of their feelings and moods—not just the ones you like.
So what message have you sent him: Deal with your feelings by yourself because I don't have the time or attention for them?
That's exactly the reason why I've never sent my kids to a time-out.
Frankly, I think they're awful. My kids are far from angelic, but I believe that in a world in which so many parents are distracted by smartphones and laptops, their children, more than ever, need to know they have their undivided attention.
Children need a loving adult to be with them in joy—and in anger—and not be judged for expressing the latter.
If a child has an anger issue, then that’s a different thing. It’s also a job for a specialist and not a time-out chair. But I’m talking about a regular kid who does regular kid things and occasionally acts out of sadness or fear or some other dark emotion that causes them to misbehave.
If you regularly send your child to time-out because you want to teach them a lesson, how about trying this lesson instead? Next time that your child misbehaves, sit with them lovingly and let them fume and cry. Maybe you let them hit something soft or wrestle around a bit, so they expend some energy and feel more powerful.
When your child finally settles down, they’ll notice that you stayed with them. They'll see that they have you close, and you’re not freaking out. They'll see that you're still connected.
Because that’s really the bottom line here: you are trying to grow a strong, loving connection to your child—one that lasts a lifetime.
Time-outs only promote separation, while connection to your child deepens when you show that you are fully there for them. They learn that you will listen to them even when they're not the best version of themselves. They learn that they can trust you with all of their feelings and moods—not just the ones you like.
Think of it this way: Who is the person you call and cry to when you are in a terrible mood? Your mother? Husband? Best friend? Does that person ever hang up on you and say, “Go deal with this alone in your room?”
I now have two teenagers who were never put in time-outs, but are incredibly thoughtful, loving, respectful people. I sat with them through a lot of tantrums, and I promise you, the pay-off has been priceless.