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The time-out is the backbone of many parents’ disciplinary arsenal. Time-outs are seen as simple and effective methods of giving you and the child a break from whatever stress or temper tantrum is going on.
But, as we will discover, timeouts could be negatively affecting your child in ways you never imagined.
Satisfying a Child’s Most Innate Need
Children need to feel connected and close to those who take care of them. This is called “attachment” and, as psychologists have studied this, it has become clear how much this governs what children and adults do. We thrive when we feel secure in our connections with those we love. (1)
Time-outs prey upon the fear of separation. Parents actually create separation anxiety. (3) “[T]he anxiety created by chronically threatening a child with separation damages their core sense of security and connection,” says family therapist Susan Stiffelman.
Children don’t like being separated from us and from whatever activity is going on. The hope is that by removing them from the situation and giving the child time to calm down, they will emerge behaving in a way that is more acceptable and garners them positive attention, rather than negative.
Parenting Wisdom: Deciphering Children’s Behavior
Psychologist and family therapist Todd Sarner of Transformative Parenting tells us that when children act out it’s an indication that something is wrong, even though the child may not be able to tell us what that is.
“Usually they are feeling disconnected or struggling with some difficult feelings. Using separation-based discipline like time-outs tells a child that when he is in need, we will answer his pleas for connection with the exact opposite of what he is asking for.” (1)
Time-outs may appear to work initially because the child fears being separated and will behave properly to avoid it. What can happen over time, though, is children become desensitized to this fear. This need for connection has gone unmet before, has been denied him before, so he eventually shuts down those feelings.
Time-outs lose their power.