What’s so wrong with the traditional timeout?

In my previous posts about timeouts, I didn’t delve too deeply into why exactly the Ezzos don’t believe in timeouts as they are typically done in our culture. Here is an explanation, straight out of the book:

“Using timeouts, as culturally practiced, is not an effective substitute for repeated offenses that call for correction. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, using timeouts as a primary method of punishment is one of the least satisfactory types of consequence. There are two reasons behind this statement.

“First, the child seldom associates sitting in a chair with the act for which he is being punished since the frustration of the parent is usually a more dominant factor in the situation than the act itself. As a result, the child tends to associate parental frustration with timeouts rather than with the wrong deed itself. The child is not sitting in a chair contemplating the benefits of a virtuous life, nor is he beating his chest and chanting, ‘Oh, what a sinner I am,’” Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition, page 151.

Focus on the behavior, not your frustration

The Ezzos make a very good point about the parent’s frustration becoming the focus of the timeout. I would say that this applies to any form of discipline where parents lose their cool. When you get angry with your child, he will likely point the finger at you rather than himself. He will sit in his timeout thinking about how angry and unfair you are being without thinking about his own actions and what caused the conflict in the first place. It becomes a blame game, and in his head, you are the one to blame.

On the other hand, when you are calm and administer fair discipline, the child has no one to blame but himself. The lack of anger (from the parent and child) allows everyone the clarity they need to see the situation at face value. It allows the child to take blame for his own actions and come to a point of repentance. Any hatred or anger toward the parent is completely eliminated.

Let the punishment fit the crime

The Ezzos make another point about cultural timeouts:

“Second, there is little to no punishment-equivalent. A five-minute timeout for hitting his sister with his hard plastic bat taught Stevie the wrong value for his offense. From the experience, he learned that the pain and bruise to his sister was equal in value to five minutes in the chair,” Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition, page 151.

With our discipline methods, we need to show our children the seriousness of their crimes. And every family has its own value system. In our home, the two biggest offenses are disrespecting your parents and lying. In choosing a discipline method for such offenses, I am able to communicate the seriousness of the action. If I did a timeout of one minute per year of age (see my previous description of the Supernanny method) for every misbehavior, I wouldn’t be able to communicate the seriousness of the offense. I could do so with my words—which works to some extent—but as with everything in parenting, actions speak louder than words.

Don’t allow your child to weigh the odds

The other problem with using a timeout for every misbehavior is that the child will weigh the odds. If he knows what’s coming when he disobeys, he may choose that it’s worth it to sit in timeout for five minutes if he can sneak a cookie or even tell a lie against his sibling. When we mix up our discipline methods, we keep our kids on their toes and always use a discipline method that will send the right message and teach the right lesson.

Don’t forget these important points the next time you administer a timeout or any other type of consequence.



Filed under discipline

4 responses to “What’s so wrong with the traditional timeout?

  1. I’m interested to know what the Ezzo’s say about natural consequences. Natural consequences and the removing of privileges have always been my go-to methods of discipline. One problem, as I see it, with the time-out is that it doesn’t allow the child to see the consequences of his or her actions. If little Johnny whacks his sister with a bat and is then sent off to his room he may not be able to view the result of his actions. I’ve usually seen children naturally repentent when they realize that their actions have caused harm to another person.

  2. Lynn

    Natural consequences have their place, but when you have a toddler who hits his baby sister, he *will* see her cry before he gets put in his crib or in the corner. The problem is, many children can hit or misbehave and not CARE if the other child is hurt. That is why additional consequences are usually needed. Part of having a Biblical worldview is remembering that children are not born naturally good and innocent-that they have a sin nature just like the rest of us.

    Ezzo does talk about natural consequences-it is in chapter 12.

  3. Maureen

    Thanks, Lynn.

    Yes, natural and logical consequences are definitely effective discipline tools. They are a key component of the Ezzos’ parenting methods. Here are my posts on the subjects:

    Natural consequences

    Logical consequences

    Why logical consequences work

  4. This rings true to me and is how we view time out in our family and how I train those with whom I work. Here’s a link that outlines the specifics: http://www.cornerstonesforparents.com/blogs/time-outs-that-build-time-in-for-god

    Thanks for the post.

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