advice has to make sense to be worth considering - but it has to have a
lot more to it than that. In the 25 years that I’ve been a parenting
psychologist guiding parents with typical childrearing issues, I’ve
seen some advice elevated to an absolute belief - never examined, just
accepted as truth.
There are many absolute parenting beliefs that
need to be held up to the light because the results are not what
parents were promised. Some of these beliefs - actually myths - need to
be updated and corrected to help parents do the thoughtful, wise,
validated childrearing job they’re trying to do The focus here will be
on timeout. Future articles will deal with other common myths.
There is more confusion than ever about timeout: how old a child should
be – how long timeout should be – whether a child should be allowed to
play during timeout - where should the child be put during timeout -
especially, should you send your child to his bedroom for timeout? Here
we look at where in the house the timeout should be.
Myth: If you send your child to his bedroom for timeout, he’ll come to dislike or fear his room.
get an array of advice about timeout practices. Much of this array
doesn’t help to accomplish the intended result. Timeout used to be
called “go to your room.” That was the childhood consequence for many
of today’s parents when their behavior was out of bounds. The goal of
timeout is to convey to children: Your behavior was so unacceptable
that you can’t be with other people now. You need to behave better to
be accepted by others. Timeout is a socializing tool. It’s supposed to
have two elements: 1. You can’t be with others – not even see or hear
the rest of the family; and 2. You’ve lost freedom to move around the
house. So, to accomplish these goals, the time-honored method has
been to send the child to his bedroom with the door shut. Timeout
is intended to help kids realize that being with the rest of the family
is a privilege they will lose if their behavior is awful. Most people –
children and adults - want to be with others, so the message of timeout
was clear. But lately, parents have been bombarded with conflicting
advice about the harm that the wrong kind of timeout can do to
children. Let’s clear up this uncertainty.
children’s bedrooms for timeout (with the traditional one minute per
year of a child’s age) tends to be the most useful kind of timeout.
Shutting their door is part of timeout – unless they are having major
separation issues and really can stay in their room with the door open.
The bedroom is much more effective than other parts of the house such
as sitting on the living room couch, on a dining room chair, in the
laundry room, or on the stairs. In these “naughty spots,” the child can
still hear and see the family, and therefore isn’t isolated. Children
are likely to purposely slide up and down stairs or off the chair. This
tends to undercut the original goal of timeout. Parents get
increasingly angry when they have to keep chastising and threatening.
When the “naughty spot” timeout eventually ends, parents are likely to
be much more furious, which doesn’t help them or the child. When
timeout is in the child’s bedroom, it also helps us cool down.
any home, the most comforting rooms are usually the parents’ bedroom
and the child’s own bedroom. You only make them fear their bedroom if
you do something extreme like make them stay there for an unreasonably
long period or in the dark. Most parents wouldn’t do that. It’s usually
considered fine for children to play during timeout because kids under
four don’t really see it as fun, since they’re eager to be with their
parents again. As children get to be four and older, and can play
happily for long periods in their room, we can make consequences
more effective by adding a second one after timeout. (See my book Why Do I Have To? for a detailed description of these post-timeout consequences.)
you’ve given up on using their bedrooms for timeouts, it’s really
worthwhile to reconsider how valuable this tool can be for you and your
Timeout is a useful consequence that helps children learn to stop themselves from misbehaving. It is not the
only consequence available to parents, but it is a helpful one. We need
to make sure that each consequence we use is done effectively so it has
value in guiding our children’s behavior.
Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent
psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is
in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in
pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg
was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo
Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats, I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual
for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her
articles, visit www.PerfectingParentingPress.com. To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to AnnyeRothenberg.com.