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Child Discipline Tips - Why Time Out in Naughty Corner is Wrong

Updated on July 7, 2016
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John uses his research background in Biochemistry & Physiology to develop review articles - pregnancy, babies, infants, children, teenagers

While putting a child in the 'naughty corner' and giving kids some 'time out' by themselves has long been promoted as the best child disciplining strategy, the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has strongly advised against it.

There is growing evidence it may not be good for the child, and may not teach them anything about good and bad behavior, especially for young children under the age of about 3 years.

The fundamental problem with the technique is that the skill of being able to control emotions is something that a child has to learn.

They cannot do this by themselves, and it is part of a child’s development that is learnt from parents and carers.

Punishing a child when they struggle to learn this emotional skill achieves very little as it is clearly the role of the parents and carers to teach them how to control their emotions and what behavior is acceptable or not. It can be a lazy response from the parent and care giver.

This article reviews the various tips for disciplining children that parents and carers should try as alternatives to this strategy.

The common strategy of Time Out in the Naughty Corner is not recommended as children are too young and incapable of reflecting on their emotional outburst.
The common strategy of Time Out in the Naughty Corner is not recommended as children are too young and incapable of reflecting on their emotional outburst. | Source

What is Time-Out

The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc (AAIMHI) published a position paper on the technique in 2009, strongly advising against the strategy particularly for children under 3 years old, and also warned against the technique for older children.

The reasons given were:

  • It does not teach constructive and proactive ways to deal with problems.Teaching separation as a way to deal with problems is negative approach and is a punishment.
  • It fails because parents and carersare unaware young children are incapable of self-regulation of emotions by themselves.They can only learn to control their emotions with the active support of a parent or carer.

The message associated with the 'time out' is that it’s 'naughty' when a child gets overwhelmed by emotion and to loses control.

Children are sent to the naughty corner until they can behave themselves properly and to apologise.

Because children lack the ability to control their emotions, this response is equivalent to punishing a child with a time out because they cannot ride a bike.

Controlling emotions is a learned skill, just like riding a bike. It is a part of a child’s development and it is the parent's responsibility and role to teach them.

Many parenting support websites and organisations, still promote the use of 'time out' as a way of controlling behaviour and teaching them to cope with emotional outburst.

This is done not as a punishment or as a way to humiliate a children, but as a cooling-off strategy to calm everyone down by separating people from where the incident occurred.

The timeout only occurs for 1-2 minutes and the child always remains in sight of their carer.

For older children (4-6 years old) there is research to suggest that not setting a fixed time works best.

It is left to the child to decide when they have calmed down and have thought about how to solve the problem, and perhaps apologise.

The reported benefits of time out in the naughty are:

  • It stops disruptive behaviour when the child is in a group
  • It creates a physical separation between the child and the problem
  • It gives everyone including the parent and carer a chance to calm down and to start afresh.

What is Wrong with the Time-Out Strategy?

The research that supports using time outs, especially for older children, generally does not consider the emotional impact on the child. Children under three years or age and many older childrenare incapable of self regulating emotionally. They need the support of the parent of caregiver to help them with this, not separation from them and time alone. Consequently the time out may increase a child’s insecurity and distress.

The most effective response to out of control behaviour is for parents and caregivers to understand how the child is feeling and what triggers the response. The parent or carer can then anticipate when problems could occur, plan to prevent them and know how to respond to them. The child needs assurance that the parent or carer is in control and that strong feelings and emotions can be understood and managed. The key way to provide an effective response is that the parent or carer understands the cause behind the behaviour and the emotional response.

Alternatives to Time Out - The 'Time in Parenting' Approach

The method dubbed "time in parenting" was devised by Otto Weininger, a Canadian psychologist in a book of the same name.See: He suggests the exact opposite from a time -out. When a child is upset and haslost control of their emotions and become rude or angry is just the time whenthey need the support and comfort of a safe and accepting adult who is calm, in control of themselves and the situation and is not focused on punishing the child.They need to be with someone who is calm and understands that anyone can get upset and lose control at various times. They also need the support of someone who will recognise these strong feelings and can deal with them appropriately. Young children need to learn how to control and regulate their emotions with the active support of the parent or carer. It is not something they can learn alone.

Some Practical Tips and Suggestions

  • Your message about the expected behavior is clear, simple and to the point. Too much information may cause confusion.
  • Make sure you child understand the rules and gives you feedback to confirm this.
  • Make sure you get the timing right and that the child is engaged when you are talking with them.
  • Be realistic and understand your child's capabilities at very ages and stage in their development.
  • Undertaking calming routines before difficult situations are a good strategy to help your child remain in a calm and controlled state or mind, for example: a simple, quiet game, a walk outside, a warm bath, or reading a story to them
  • Don't ask or expect the child to perform tasks that are too difficult such as reflecting on their emotional outburst and changing their ways. They may be incapable of doing this.
  • Make sure the child's environment provides support for the emotional context with a partnership between the parent and child for development and learning, not an environment of control and punishment
  • It should be clear that the parent is the one in charge (in a guiding and kind way). Children respond better to a confident, kind and understanding caregiver.
  • Watch a child's activities, their interaction with other children and their emotional state. Look out for early warning signs of difficulty or distress and act early on to avoid the situation worsening. This can involve diversions, attention to needs, giving the child a hug, changes to the activity or to the group dynamics.
  • Be aware of and respond to the contributing factors and circumstances such the child's level of excitement, tiredness or frustration
  • Present young children with choices and alternatives wherever possible and within their capability.
  • Anticipate and were possible avoid difficult situations.
  • Think about the event or situation from the child's perspective as this will help you predict what might happen.
  • If you see your child becoming emotional make them aware of it and identify it with a name that they understand. Such as "I can see that you are getting cross now - do you think it would be best to". This identifies the problem and offers a way to avoid it getting worse.
  • If none of the tips above seems to be working take the child away from the situation but accompany them (this is called ‘time in’). Try to remain as calm as you can. Acknowledge the child's feeling and situation and that you are aware of them. Offer to connect with the child by giving them a hug or help. Try to find a solution and outcome that will calm them down. Tell them that the stress will be over soon and everything will be fine again.
  • Importantly, parents who get frustrated, angry or upset themselves need to take a break, as long as the child is not left alone. Sometimes a parent who is not coping can trigger the emotional outburst in the child.

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • Glenis Rix profile image


    4 months ago from UK

    An interesting theory. Copying to my son and his wife, who have two small children.

  • TeachableMoments profile image


    6 years ago from California

    I love the Time-In Parenting approach. I never use time-outs with my daughter or the children I teach. Instead, we turn it into a teachable moment where we discuss why certain choices are not positive and how we can make better choices when we try again. The Time-In method helps children become critical thinkers, a necessary skill needed throughout life. Great hub!

  • Jean Bakula profile image

    Jean Bakula 

    6 years ago from New Jersey

    My son is an elementary school teacher and Asst. Dir. of a Martial Arts School, and enjoys working with 4-6 year olds, because it's where their foundation for learning is laid. He has learned that most teachers have done away with time outs. The child needs to be shown what behavior is expected. If everyone is walking to the coat closet, and one child is running across the room, he walks slowly across the room with the child, showing them the appropriate behavior. If everyone is sitting in the circle, and one child is rolling around, he says, "What should you be doing now?" The child looks at the others, and usually copies them. Sometimes Peer Pressure is a good thing.

  • denise.w.anderson profile image

    Denise W Anderson 

    6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

    This is an interesting way to get attention to a difficult problem that needs to be addressed, taking a common discipline strategy and showing that there are better alternatives. Yes, young children are unable to self-reflect enough to analyze why they are being disciplined, and yes, parents need to teach their children proper behavior. Anticipating their needs is an important part of the teaching process. You have hit the nail on the head with the "time in" technique, where we as parents or care givers help the child work through the troubling situation and give options for successful resolution.


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