Study reveals whether ‘time outs’ actually harm kids or not

It looks like the naughty step may be here to stay, as new research shows the common ‘time out’ technique isn’t harmful for children, nor does it damage the relationship we have with our kids.

Parenting trends come and go and the best way to deal with kids’ bad behaviour is often divided.

‘Time out’ – where a misbehaving child is placed in a quiet, neutral space for a short period of time – is the discipline go-to for many mums and dads, but the method has previously come under criticism.

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Now, a study by the University of Michigan has debunked some misconceptions surrounding time outs, showing that if used properly it can be an effective way to manage troublesome behaviour in tots.

The US researchers looked at data tracking families over three different time points, over roughly eight years. Children’s mental health and social skills were measured along with how positive or negative they were towards mum and dad.

The findings showed no difference between kids whose parents used time out and those who didn’t, and revealed there is no link between time outs and negative symptoms in older children including anxiety, depression, aggression or rule-breaking.

Dr Rachel Knight, paediatric psychologist at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, led the study and said that ‘time out’ is a parenting strategy that’s often misunderstood and misused.

‘There are some alarming claims that time outs can damage the parent-child relationship and negatively affect emotional health. But the research simply doesn’t support those claims. We did not find a relationship between time outs and negative side effects in children’, she said.

To use time out effectively, experts say the method should be delivered calmly and consistency without shouting or scolding.

Dr Knight adds that showing positivity when a child exhibits good behaviour is just as important as enforcing consequences when they break the rules.