Popular Parenting Myths No. 1: Is Timeout Harmful?
By Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D. 

Parenting 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.

TIMEOUT: 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.

Reality: Parents 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.

Using 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.

In 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.)

If 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 children.

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 To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to

Perfecting Parenting Press 2015