Why don't you believe in Timeouts?

Dr. Laura,
Most parenting experts seem to recommend Timeouts and they are very popular among parents -- most of them take it for granted that timeouts are the way to manage children. Why don't you think they're a good idea?

Many people find it difficult (and believe it impossible) to acknowledge and mirror the child's feelings in the way that is necessary to calm them down. And hugging at a time of a tantrum seems like .....give in, rewarding for bad behavior.

In thinking about it, the only explanation I can find is that maybe Timeouts break the connection with the child and isolate her?
Thanks for explaining -- Joan

Dear Joan,

Thanks for asking this great question. You've hit the nail on the head exactly. Timeouts break the connection with the child and isolate her. That's why they seem to work, in the sense that the child is terrified at the threat of losing the parent's love. Children will always curb their behavior if we threaten to withdraw their love. But that only works for a short time, because underneath, the connection is threatened, and that gives us less influence on our child in all future interactions. In addition, it adds an overlay of resentment, of anger. That anger makes kids misbehave, and they don't even know why.

If you were upset and your husband put you in timeout, how would you feel? If you were right, and your husband was wrong, and you put him in timeout, would that help him change his behavior? No, it just adds an overlay of resentment. Resentment creates more misbehavior. Kids are even less able to handle anger than adults are, so their anger spills out in more bad behavior that they can't even explain.

A child is not an adult, so they need to be treated with even more care, because you are shaping their behavior for life. So of course you set limits — you don't “give in.” But there is no reason that setting limits has to be done by withholding love. When you say hugging them during their meltdown is giving in, you seem to be saying that you should withdraw your love? If they are having a meltdown because they want something, you don't give it to them. But why on earth do you need to withdraw your love? Anytime you withdraw your love from anyone they behave worse.

Finally, every parent can acknowledge and mirror their child's feelings to calm them down. The most important part is controlling our own anger, because the dirty little secret of parenting is that we get angry at our kids and justify being mean to them to "teach them a lesson." When parents say it isn't possible to calm kids down it is because they are feeding their child's upset with their own anger. If we meet our child's upset with calm reflection, it always helps them to contain their emotions.

It really is possible, it just takes practice, like anything else. But that work is worth it, because the alternatives are too costly.

For more info on Timeouts, click here.

For more info on using Empathy to calm kids down, click here.

For more info on How to use Positive Discipline, click here.

For more info on How to set limits instead of giving in.

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I have seen amazing improvement in my *very* angry 17 year-old son after acknowledging that there was a reason he was so angry and acting out. We have had several heartfelt conversations and I have seen a real change in how he treats his younger brother, and how he treats me.


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