As more parents reject the practice of hitting kids in the name of discipline, there comes this question: What works?
Corporal punishment, research has documented, emphatically does not. People mistakenly believe it does because the first few times it will stop a child’s misbehavior.
But in the long run, it’s ineffective, counterproductive. Children quickly become more resistant and resentful when it’s used. Corporal punishment, research has documented, is associated with bad outcomes: Depression, delinquency, anxiety and aggression all have been linked to spanking, hitting and the like.
So the idea of timeout is great. But parents’ results with it sometimes aren’t. Research points out why.
Timeout is more than putting a kid in a chair. Timeout is effective - if it’s done right.
Timeout works only if there is also “timein” - and a lot of the latter.
“It’s simply one component needed to teach little children to obey their moms and dads, if indeed they are disobedient,” says Mark W. Roberts, a psychology professor and director of Idaho State University’s clinical training program.
The power of praise is often overlooked. Yale psychologist Alan Kazdin says, “Emphasis needs to be placed on rewarding desired behavior, not on punishing and unwittingly reinforcing deviant behavior.” (If a child gets attention only for misbehavior, you are unwittingly teaching him to continue misbehaving.)
Kazdin also advises:
Devote most of your time to reinforcing good behavior with smiles, hugs, compliments or special privileges. Do this at least five to 10 times as often as using a timeout. A higher ratio is even better.
Praise each new step toward improvement, no matter how small.
If you have to use timeout, do so immediately following misbehavior.
Alternate mild forms of discipline, such as a frown or a mild reprimand, with timeouts. Varying your reaction to make your point is more effective.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.