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Is Putting Your Child In Time-Out Putting Them At Risk?

Ever since British Supernanny sensation, Jo Frost took the naughty chair mainstream more than a decade ago, the practice of putting kids in time-out has falling in and our of favour with parents.

"It started with a Time magazine cover which had the title 'Time Out Is Hurting Your Child'," Professor Mark Dadds, director of the Sydney Child Behaviour Research Clinic, told 10 daily.

"The person that wrote it later retracted the story, but it was kind of out of the box by then."

But according to new research from the University of Sydney, time-outs are perfectly fine to use and remain one of the most effective discipline strategies you can employ for "happier and much more regulated" children -- when used properly.

Despite the myths surrounding its use, time-out is the second-most common discipline strategy in the world, after explaining and talking to your child. It is also one of the most well-researched methods on Earth.

Image: Getty
Time-Out And Trauma

Dadd's research, conducted at Sydney University's Child Behaviour Research Clinic, scrutinised studies on children's behaviour dating back more than 50 years from a mental health perspective.

It looked at the use of time-out on children aged between two and eight.

The findings, published in American Psychologist, also addressed long-standing concerns about the technique's use on children who have been exposed to traumatic events, such as neglect or abuse.

The belief that sending a child to time-out could reinforce attachment problems has spread widely in recent years.

"It's become such a myth now that there's even child care agencies in Australia that are routinely recommending to parents that they should not use time out with children that have emotional problems or attachment problems," he said.

"It's like the vaccine/autism story -- once it's out there you can't get it back in the box."

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The NSW Department of Family and Community Services supports carers and foster parents using various forms of time-out methods in challenging circumstances, but only when approved in a formal Behaviour Support Plan (BSP).

"Family and Community Services promotes the use of positive behaviour support strategies to assist carers to understand and manage children and young peoples’ behaviours," a FACS spokesperson said in a statement to 10 daily.

"When BSPs include a non-exclusionary or exclusionary time out, this is not a standalone strategy and is included in a plan that focuses on other positive strategies and skills development."

Image: Getty

Dadds said through the study and his own personal experience working with children who have experienced trauma, he found it clear that the time-out method gives children a chance to regulate their own emotions.

"When re-reviewed the evidence, we found there was no evidence that it was harmful, and in fact the evidence was that it tended to decrease trauma and attachment-type difficulties in children," he said.

What Does Time-Out Look Like When Done Properly?

Despite being around for so long, time-out is often misused by parents.

"Time-out is not about a long period of isolation like solitary confinement," Dadds said.

"A time-out is saying, you're not rejected or anything you just need to clam down and you need to get yourself back in control and you can join us again."

For parents who need a refresher, find below the do's and dont's according the Dadd.

The Dos
  • Make "time-in" as rich as possible. This includes showing lots of affection, parental attention and engaging activities. Descriptive praise should be enthusiastic and focus on the behaviours you want your child to do more, such as staying calm, keeping hands and feet to themselves or being gentle.
  • Use time-out for inappropriate behaviours that the child has some control over, such as aggression, kicking or screaming.
  • When using time-out, stay calm.
  • Keep time-out to a short period of time -- two minutes is usually enough. Time-out ends when your child has been quiet for a set period of time, having calmed down and regulated their emotions.
  • Make sure you tell your child why you're sending them to time-out -- "you hit your brother and have not done what I asked" for example -- and remind them of the time-out rules each time you use it.
  • Have a playful rehearsal of time-out before you start using it. This could mean roleplaying with a toy or another caregiver in time-out so that the child knows what to expect.
The Don'ts
  • Do not use time-out for behaviours that represent an inability to do something, such as making a mistake or a lack of understanding.
  • Do not give your child any attention while they're in time-out and make sure they have nothing to play with.
  • Do not allow your child to decide when they are ready to leave time-out. The practice works best when it is completely controlled by the parent.
  • Do not criticise the child or use rejecting language that threatens the child's attachment.