‘Time-outs’ won’t cause long-term problems, study says

bedtime tears
Posted at 7:51 AM, Feb 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 11:29:06-05

Time-out or no time-out? It’s a question parents often contemplate when trying to get their child to calm down.

Now, a recent study looks at whether taking a ‘time-out’ has any negative long-term effects on our children.

“This study was looking at ‘time-outs’ over several years, and found there were no long-term effects for kids that were put in ‘time-out’ versus those kids that weren’t, and they looked at emotional and behavioral functioning,” said Emily Mudd, Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study.

The study looked at data from a national study of more than one thousand children. The results showed no association between use of ‘time-outs’ and symptoms of depression, anxiety, aggression, or self-control. Dr. Mudd said if parents use a ‘time-out’ appropriately – to help a child self-regulate, and not as a punishment – they can be effective.

She said if a child is acting out, or having a tantrum, they need guidance to help them regulate their emotions, as very small children don’t yet have the skills to do so on their own.

Dr. Mudd recommends trying to ‘name’ the feeling first. Say things like, ‘I can see that you’re very angry right now,’ which may help the child begin to manage their emotions, and a ‘time-out’ may not be necessary. But, she cautions, that not all kids are the same. And just because a time out works for one child, it does not mean it will work for another.

If parents do choose to use a time-out, Dr. Mudd said it’s best to keep it short. “If you are going to use time-outs and it’s something that works for your family, a good rule of thumb is to do one minute per year of age, starting, not much younger than age one - 18 months would really be the youngest age we would recommend,” she said. “So, a two-year-old would get two minutes time-out, and really at that age, it’s just really teaching them how to regulate their bodies.

Dr. Mudd reminds parents that children receive a lot of negative feedback throughout the day, whether it’s ‘don’t do this, or ‘stop doing that.’ so, if time outs are used, make sure a child is also praised when they’re behaving appropriately.

Complete results of the study can be found in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.