Is it Good Practice to Use Time-Out?
The early care and education community has been debating time-out for years. The practice has been misused and overused, and in some places it is now banned. Time-out comes from the same roots as positive reinforcement: social learning theory and behaviorism. An extreme way to ignore inappropriate behavior, it actually means a time-out from positive reinforcement (Quinn et al., 2000; Webster-Stratton and Herbert, 1994). Although there are many variations, time-out usually involves removing a child from the group to sit in a remote area of the room, perhaps on a specified chair, for one minute for each year of his age, to think about what he’s done.
Adherents maintain that time-out tells the child that you care and want to help him keep himself in control. If it’s used sensitively and correctly, they say, it assists in maintaining a respectful, trusting relationship. They also believe that time-out interrupts and prevents aggressive behavior, protects the rights and safety of the other children, and keeps them from turning into an admiring and encouraging audience (Milne-Smith, 1995; Rodd, 1996). It allows the child who behaves aggressively, the child who is victimized, and the adult enough time to compose themselves without giving undue attention to the aggressor. According to the yea-sayers, time-out works if it’s used consistently and appropriately (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998; Milne-Smith, 1995; Slaby et al., 1995).
Opponents argue that time-out is a form of punishment that teaches children it’s all right to use power to control others. They point out that children don’t understand the connection between their behavior and time-out, and time-out doesn’t acknowledge their feelings (Katz and McClellan, 1997) or address the causes of their behavior (Marion, 1999). Because teachers tend to use time-out when they’re angry, frustrated, or out of control themselves, their motives are suspect. Foes also say that rather than stopping challenging behavior, time-out actually increases it by making children more angry, hostile, and resentful. They suggest that when a teacher puts a child into time-out, he’s probably plotting his revenge (Katz and McClellan, 1997).
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