Time-out as child discipline

           A recent article In the American Psychologist by Dadds and Tully (2019) offered a thorough review of  a form of discipline under recent criticism: time-out from positive reinforcement, referred to here as time-out. Their definition of time-out was "any procedure that reduces unacceptable child behavior by the child experiencing an enforced reduction in available reinforcement for a brief period contingent upon an unacceptable behavior" (p. 796). Time-out can be accomplished by a variety of measures, such as a caretaker's brief withdrawal of attention, the child's going to a chair or a corner in the room, and a child's being sent to a segregated area like a bedroom.

               After reviewing the literature on parental discipline, Dadds and Tully (2019) concluded that time-out makes a positive contribution across all four of the contemporary child development theories: behavioral, attachment, self-regulatory, and family systems. They employed their analysis to derive guidelines for applying time-out most constructively.

               I have chosen those guidelines that stood out to me as most useful:

1) Time-out needs to be a part of an overall positive family relationship, wherein the parent explicitly teaches and rewards positive behaviors, especially those needed to replace the negative ones.

2) Time-out should only be used for inappropriate behaviors that are deliberate and under the child's control. It should not be used for behaviors the child can't help because of immaturity, lack of knowledge, and overwhelming emotion.

3) Before time-out is used, its basic rules and reasons should be explained to the child.

4) The ending of time-out should depend on when he child is self-regulating again and should not end because an arbitrary time period is over. "Return to time-in can be contingent upon the child's showing a brief but stable period of regulated emotions and behavior" (p. 801).

5) Time-out should be used for all the children in the family, depending on their developmental levels.

               I also recommend that the end of time- out can be a teaching opportunity in which to make sure the child understands the reason he/she was disciplined. After it is over, alternative behaviors that would have prevented it can also be discussed. 


Dadds, M. R., & Tully, L. A.  (2019).What is it to discipline a child: What should it be? A reanalyysis of time-out from the perspective of child mental health, attachment, and trauma. American Psychologist, 74(7), 794-808. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/amp0...


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