Add Time-Outs To The List Of Ways We’re Ruining Our Kids’ Lives
Parents who are averse to spanking can feel assured that they’re choosing a more thoughtful method of discipline when they turn to time-outs instead – right? Not according to Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, who want you to know that you’re hurting your child and permanently changing the way his brain works by making him sit in the naughty chair for two minutes after he throws a wooden block at his sister’s head.
Siegel and Bryson have written about their anti-time-out views on child discipline in Time, to correspond with yesterday’s release of their new book, No-Drama Discipline. Instead of putting a child into time-out, as pediatricians have been recommending for ages, apparently we’re supposed to forge connections with him by offering comfort and talking about the emotional distress that caused him to act out in the first place. I’m not clear on who’s going to be offering comfort to the sibling who got brained by the toy in the first place; or who’s going to be cleaning peanut butter out of the dog’s fur, or who’s going to answer the doorbell, or doing any of the other hundred thousand things that come up when someone’s entire life can’t revolve around preventing a single child from feeling isolated after he fills the dishwasher with toothpaste.
In their piece, the authors appeal to scientific research to make their point, but there’s a big logical leap between what “the latest research” says and where their point lands:
Studies in neuroplasticity—the brain’s adaptability—have proved that repeated experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. Since discipline-related interactions between children and caregivers comprise a large amount of childhood experiences, it becomes vital that parents thoughtfully consider how they respond when kids misbehave.
This appears to be carefully worded to avoid having to make an actual connection between time-outs and lasting changes to the brain, let alone that such changes are harmful. The authors also bring up that on a brain scan, parental separation “can look” like physical abuse, without any details about what circumstances this actually happens under or in what ways they look alike. (I mean, to me pretty much every MRI looks like another, but I assume they have at least a slightly more substantial comparison?) I think that Siegel and Bryson could stand to ease back on the rhetoric about how you’re hurting your child and damaging their long-term emotional health before they can do more than make a vague reference to tangentially-related scientific studies.
Time-out is an important behavior management for parents as well as kids; sometimes that few minutes of what the authors see as heartless parental isolation is what gives a parent the emotional space to respond appropriately, too. The implication that we’re practically physically abusing our children by using this technique is frankly irresponsible. No, of course you shouldn’t just throw your child into a corner when she misbehaves and leave her there for an hour to stew; it’s definitely important to help kids learn strategies for dealing with their own feelings! But it’s still possible to work with your child on explaining why she’s acting out and how she can manage her behavior after she’s in time-out at least long enough for you to rescue the cat from the kitchen cupboard.