Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News Psychology

The (Lack of) Science Behind Time-Outs As a Tool to Discipline Children


Originally Posted: October 15, 2019

George Holden, chair of the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University was quoted in this article

When Amy and Steve Unruh decided to adopt a four-year-old child from the Philippines, they anticipated challenges. They understood it would take time, as well as a great deal of love and care, for their family and its newest member to adjust. But they were committed to helping a child in need.

The Unruh’s were blindsided when their adoption application was turned down. The reason, they were told, was that their parenting style was not suitable for an adopted child. “They said it was because we’ve used time-outs with our daughter,” says Amy Unruh, 43, who is a stay-at-home mom in Milton, Florida. During her interview with the adoption agency, she’d explained that, when her biological daughter misbehaves and doesn’t respond to verbal warnings, she is occasionally sent to her room or told to sit quietly in a chair for five minutes. “They told us this was isolating and not appropriate for an adopted child—or for any child,” Unruh says. “We were devastated.”

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry promote time-outs as an effective parenting strategy. Among kids with oppositional defiant disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder—the two most commonly diagnosed causes of disruptive behavior in children—research has found that time-outs can help correct problem behaviors. READ MORE