Child-Centered Parenting is Dangerous

By: Joe Newman

I was excited to see not only Julie Gamberg’s article railing against my time-out blogs, but also the ensuing conversations. She did a good a job of capturing the sentiments of the child-centered parenting movement, and in so doing laid open its many fatal flaws.

Yes, time-outs ARE the new spanking! Parents are now giving children consequences without violence and judgment. Is this supposed to be a bad thing? It’s clear that Ms. Gamberg thinks it’s not enough to take the violence and judgment out of consequences, she thinks we need to take the consequence out of consequences. She attempts to take the conflict and struggle out of life -the effect out of cause and effect -which simply isn’t possible, even for children. Conflict and struggle are natural parts of life, without which children cannot develop into healthy adults.

The sentiment Ms. Gamberg conveys (and I must speak to the sentiment since she offers very little in terms of concrete solutions) is that parents must, at all costs, protect children from struggles and difficulty. I say, to do so is to create children who are psychologically feeble, have difficulty with intimacy, lack self-discipline, and grow up to be unhappy adults.

Words and compassionately-given moral lectures are not the same as consequences. If the result of every behavior is the same warm, comfortable, loving talk, how will your child come to understand she can’t have everything she wants? That her needs and desires will often conflict with the needs and desires of others? Or even, where the child ends and you begin? In fact, these gentle lectures, with their subtle use of shame and guilt to influence behavior, are more coercive and manipulative than the non-judgmental, honest consequence and acknowledgment of the child’s independence that I advocate.

When did Ms. Gamberg lose all faith in her child’s abilities to survive even a minor difficulty, struggle, disappointment, or loss that comes with a one-minute time-out? Doesn’t she know that patronizing and the low expectation she communicates do more damage to her child’s self-identity than a thousand time-outs? Handle your children as if they have very little capacity to deal with life’s natural ups and downs–its causes and effects —and they will develop very little capacity.

Parents must learn to allow their children to experience the consequences of their actions, to coach them through difficulties, rather than work to remove them. Otherwise, they will learn this on the schoolyard, in the classroom, in relationships, and eventually in the workplace. And none of these will be as loving, wise, and nonjudgmental as the parent might have been.

Ms. Gamberg’s article shows a superficial, pop-psychology understanding of child development, offers no real solutions for parents with willful children, and ignores the mounting evidence that shows the dangerous results that come from the kind of child-centered parenting she advocates. And while she might be forgiven for reaching some of her conclusions based on the way time-outs are used on Supernanny or Nanny 911 (both of these programs pair the use of time-outs with moralizing lectures, shame, and guilt, i.e. “the naughty spot”), she’s negligent in not recognizing the big difference between those practices and the time-out method I advocate, which emphasizes the importance of recognizing the child’s power -without judging the behavior -while setting a firm limit.

It became clear to me while reading this tirade against consequences that the misunderstanding about child development and the methods I’m advocating runs deep. For this reason my focus this month will be on explaining child development in terms of the motivations and emerging self-identity of your child. My explanations will be grounded in intersubjective psychoanalytic theory (see Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love). Intersubjective psychoanalytic theory looks at child development with a focus on how the interactions between subjects (the child and mother, father, teacher, etc.) shape the psychology of the child.

Additionally, this month’s blog will explain how the sharp rise in behavior problems and psychiatric illness in our children can be understood as the consequence of a shift that has occurred in a crucial stage of their psychological development. This shift is a result of the fundamental change in how we raise children. How the shift affects the individual child depends on the innate characteristics of the child combined with the extent to which they are exposed to the shift.

The pendulum has swung from a priority of teaching children the importance of recognition and consideration of others to a priority of teaching them recognition and consideration of self -from an emphasis on self-discipline to an emphasis on self-expression.

The problem is, an imbalance in either direction causes unhappiness and suffering. Today’s imbalance is manifesting both in children who are harder to control as well as a sharp rise in psychological illness among our new generation. Mental illness one hundred years ago wasn’t nonexistent; rather, it manifested in various psychological “issues” that damaged a person’s ability to direct his life in an empowered and self-confident way. When the importance was placed on the connection and consideration of others, but not on recognition of one’s own needs, suffering/illness was directed inward. Today, with the importance being placed on the recognition of self and not connection or responsibility to others, people act out their suffering in their behavior, aloud, toward others.

I’m not suggesting a return to the authoritarian parenting which raised children who had to recognize adults while they themselves were negated -far from it. Rather, it is time to demonstrate new models of interaction that can raise children with both a strong sense of their own power and a strong capacity for connection with others. Instead of child-centered parenting, let’s try relationship-based parenting. Let’s not swing from one extreme to the other; let’s move forward.

If you’re not sure of my conclusions about child-centered parenting you don’t have to take my word for it; the results are already in. Since the 1960’s our culture has moved closer and closer to child-centered parenting that attempts to replace actual consequences with self-esteem, talking, and moralizing -and look at the results…

In the last twenty years the number of children disabled with mental illness rose thirty-five fold. In the last ten years there has been a 4000% increase in the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a 400% increase in prescriptions written annually for stimulant drugs to increase attention, and a 333% increase in the use of antidepressant medications for children. The GAO, in its June 2008 report, concluded that one in every sixteen of this country’s young adults is now “seriously mentally ill.”

Add to these the startling statistics about the rise in narcissism (see Jeanne Twinge’s book Generation Me) and the freefall in our children’s academic capacities when compared to those of other first-world countries and the jury is in: child-centered parenting is a disaster!

While there are clearly a number of factors that contribute to the decline of our children’s well being (the economic shift that forced parents to work more and spend less time with their children comes to mind) I suggest that our parenting is the most significant and powerful tool to fight, or go with, this trend.

Why am I so passionate about this? Because I’m the guy who catches the casualties of this shift in parenting, teaching, and therapy. I work with the ADHD, the Bipolar, the Oppositional Defiant, the Autistic Spectrum and Emotionally Disturbed kids. After they have tried the popular parenting books on Ms. Gamberg’s list to no avail and doctors recommend their children be medicated with amphetamines, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, or SRI’s, parents come to me for real solutions.

I have too many clients already. I don’t need any more.

Joe Newman is the author of Raising Lions.
This topic has been an ongoing debate between Julie Gamberg and Joe Newman.  If you have missed any of the previous articles you can find them in order below.

The Modern Time Out by Joe Newman

Time-Outs for Impulsive Behavior by Joe Newman

Time-Outs Are the New Spanking by Julie Gamberg

Parenting: Being Mean to Kids by Julie Gamberg

Child-Centered Parenting is Dangerous by Joe Newman


  1. Karl Wagner says

    One thing I sometimes say “life doesn’t come with a handbook”. A big part of life that many people forget is that it’s not always controllable. More and more people want the right answer, clear path and no difficulties on any side. Just follow the plan. Society needs rule and consequences and children do to. Teaching values and consequences teaches decision making. Something that is sorely missing in many adults. I think this book provides a refreshing, new look at how to help children live to their fullest potential.

  2. Dottie Zicklin says

    Time outs work for us. Two years ago, my husband and I hired Joe Newman to work with our five year-old. He was having a very difficult time in kindergarten. He was anxious, cried almost every day at school and couldn’t integrate with other children. My own father was extremely strict and often abusive in his parenting of me, so I was determined not to follow in his footsteps. I wanted to approach my child with understanding and love, not heartless dicipline. Joe helped me see that time outs ARE loving and understanding. They help teach, not punish. After a few sessions with Joe, he taught us his technique. When our son had a melt down, we very calmly said “You’re five, it’s okay if you need to cry. Take a seat on the stairs and when you can be calm for one minute, you can join us. Take as much time as you need.” Joe explained that this would teach our son self regulation. And it did. Not only that, it immediately relieved his anxiety. He knew we were in charge, that we loved him, and that there were boundaries. When we didn’t have firm boundaries our son felt anxious. Like driving over a bridge without railings — you’re worried and nervous — once the rails go up, you feel safer.
    Now our son is seven. While he’s not “perfect,” he’s well behaved in school and meltdowns are a rarity. We credit Joe for teaching us that our parenting style, though well intended, wasn’t working. Setting firm boundaries and following through with non-judgmental consequences when those boundaries are crossed has helped our son enormously. He is less anxious, more engaged and though he says he doesn’t “love school,” he leaps out of the car each morning and we rest easier knowing he better prepared for facing the challenges of dealing with other humans who don’t absolutely adore him like his parents do. Thanks, Joe.

  3. says

    Great post, Joe. I’ve appreciated reading both sides of this interesting argument. But I have to say the best line that I will borrow so far comes from Dottie’s comment… “When we didn’t have firm boundaries our son felt anxious. Like driving over a bridge without railings — you’re worried and nervous — once the rails go up, you feel safer.”

  4. Natalie Shaw says

    I have seen this “child-centered” parenting going on with many of my friends and their children, but I never knew exactly what the problem was. It does seem that the children are running the show and know no consequence. The parents are almost living in fear or not wanting to engage in conflicy

  5. says

    Joe, thank you for your insights and I am sure this will lead to another great discussion. Parents are anxious and the one thing I tried to impart to my kids when they were kids was not to be as anxious as I was as a kid. It worked for one son, not the other. Anxiety is genetic in my mind but can be relieved with the right tools and I don’t mean always going to a bottle of medicine or drink.

  6. Becky Einsig says

    Great blog, Joe. I think you really got to the core issues of the crisis that children are facing today because of well-intentioned but misguided parenting advice. One thing, I would also add that as an artist I’ve come to realize that in order to be able to genuinely express yourself, you need discipline and boundaries to struggle against. Parents who don’t set limits for their children or provide consequences are probably not going to end up with the happy, self-expressive children that they imagine they will. Instead, they will end up with self-centered children who are frustrated because they can’t truly express themselves only whatever whim or attention-getting notion is capturing their imagination at the moment.

  7. holly k says

    What if we focused our efforts on inspiring good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior?

    Mr. Newman, it’s not clear how you define “child centered,” but you seem to equates it with selfish, anti-social behavior. If not having to use “time outs” and other punishments is “child centered,” sign me up. My children aren’t perfect, but they are generally empathic, sensitive and well behaved, not because I use punishments but because I don’t. Instead, I’d prefer to focus on motivating good behavior.

    As a parent of two calm and confident boys under 3, I’ve found that the most effective strategy for gross familial happiness includes consistent explanation and demonstration of boundaries, expectations and natural consequences (as distinct from punishments), coupled with continual reflection on the question “why did my child behave this way?”. You might describe my style as “child centered,” because I respond to my children quickly and fully, resulting in a deep, trusting bond between us; they know (consciously and unconsciously) that they are the most important people in the world to me. This bond makes punishments virtually unnecessary because they’re tuned in to my expectations of them, enjoy the positive feelings associated with “good” behavior, and want to please and connect with me (and others) in a playful, loving way. This doesn’t rule out “misbehavior” as Mr. Newman might define it; my older son threw a handful of books at the library last week, and the clear and swift consequence was my calm explanation of why his behavior was not acceptable, and a subsequent departure from the library. At home, we discussed why he had thrown the books and discovered that he had done it to “see what they would sound like.” We discussed which kinds of things are appropriate for throwing and which are not, and then went outside for some throwing practice. We returned to the library the next day for a smooth visit. Issuing a “time out” would have been a faster solution in the short run, but the artificiality and isolation of it would have prevented an opportunity for my son to connect with me and for us to discover the underlying reason for his actions. Asking “Why am I doing this?” is a critical self regulatory skill that can be taught without sitting alone in a “time out” chair. If a “time out” included communication, affection, and demonstration of love, it might appeal to those of us who believe that children are inherently good, “misbehaving” only because they have unmet needs such as hurt feelings, hunger, tiredness, desire to experiment with consequences (eg. what happens when I drop this glass? How will my brother react if I jump on him?), etc.

    Mr. Newman, it concerns me that you must focus so much energy, personally and professionally, on punishments. In an earlier post, you describe punishing your daughter for taking too much time to put on makeup before school. What about addressing the underlying cause? If we as parents can vigilantly ask ‘Why?’ instead of ‘What?’, we will understand the root cause of our children’s behavior and circumvent it if necessary. Child centered parenting does not mean removing consequences; it does mean removing the temptations and causes of ‘misbehavior’ in the first place. Positive emotions are more powerful and more sustainable motivators than fear (of consequences). In our home, instead of giving “time outs” when my son refuses to brush his teeth, we create desire for the activity by turning it into a game: Are there monkeys hiding in the back of your mouth? Tooth brushing has become the highlight of the bedtime routine.

    But aside from the differences in opinion about parenting techniques, I am most concerned about the unprofessional tone of the rebuttal to Ms. Gamberg; the defensiveness and insults call your parenting advice into question. Is this how you respond to your children when they present a respectful difference of opinion? If you have access to the latest brain research, let’s see it. Links, studies, bring it on. Behavior ‘disorders’ may be on the rise, but there is no evidence suggesting that the spike is caused by parenting with love, empathy and by making one’s children a priority, at the “center” of our lives.

  8. Dottie Young says

    You entirely misunderstood the definition of “child-centered” in the context that Ms. Gamberg discusses. Your stating that “parents must, at all costs, protect children from struggles and difficulty” according to Ms. Gamberg couldn’t be further from the truth. This is NOT at all what she is advocating and it is a travesty that you are misleading all of these parents who clearly need good parenting guidance.

  9. Clara says

    Shame on you, Mr Newman, for the terror techniques you use at the end of your article. You must feel your arguments are poorly convincing to have to resort to such techniques – and they are. Where is the research your article is based on? The latest brain research I have read leads me far away from using the stick and the carrot, aka rewards and punishments including time out, which simply do not work in the long term and does not create moral adults motivated by intrinsic reasons.

    I also speak from personal experience: my husband was raised with unconditional love, very much like Alfie Kohn describes it, and I’m very grateful to his mother for never having withheld her love in crisis: as a result, he’s the most emotionally intelligent person I know. She had 5 sons (who are now 5 moral and kind men, husbands and fathers) and never, not even once, sent one of them alone in another room. Never did she shame them. She knew better! She’d lovingly go to the other room *with* them which is the big difference between helping your child self-regulate (and then problem solving *together*) and withholding your love, punishing, controlling – which works well for dogs but is quite detrimental and doesn’t have the results you claim in humans.

    A child on a time-out never thinks about the morality of their actions but rather escalates in his feelings of rage, anger, hurt and betrayal. Their brain is flooded with stress hormones. It’s distressing to think some self-proclaimed experts advise starting with little ones whose brains simply cannot handle so much stress and learn to repress their feelings rather than managing them – quite a unhealthy life tool to learn. One of the many problems of time-outs is you have to use them over and over again because the child starts testing your limits more and more. The relationship becomes a power game, instead of a partnership in which everybody is working towards similar goals: Harmony, good communication, honesty, trust, respect of others. If you treat your child with the same trust, respect and empathy you’d treat a friend or spouse, what you get in return is trust, respect and empathy. The child acts ethically and respectfully for intrinsic reasons, because they really like the parent and don’t want to hurt them, rather than becomes manipulative like children who are punished and controlled. It’s so sad to read such a misleading piece.

    I also need to say that Dottie Zicklin’s comment that Mr. Newman taught them to let their 5 year old cry alone is very scary. Humans do not enjoy crying alone. Having a young one cry alone creates more cortisol, a stress hormone, whereas crying in loving arms or in the presence of a loving adult releases cortisol. It’s really recommend doing some solid research before following such dangerous advice. Aletha Solter is an author who describes the importance of avoiding time-outs and the role of emotional release in solving tantrums and “difficult behaviors”. Here is a link to her article The Disadvantages of Time-Outs.

  10. says

    I find this all fascinating. I think the two fields of thought can be combined. I would like to see some advice from your school of thought Clara when a child is very stubborn and continues to disrupt a room full of people screaming for her Mom and the Mom sits there waiting for the child to come over to her before she will attend to her needs. I personally would have gone to the child and taken her out of the room and either had her sit by herself in another room until she calmed down or talk to her. This mother let her carry on (disrupting the energy of the room) and finally when she quieted down in her rant met her halfway and then picked her up and held her. Not sure this was the right or wrong approach but we just kept out conversation going as she ranted and raved. She is also one stubborn little girl but we all love her. It was just family so we went with the mother’s choice of course. Suggestions from the aware parenting segment as to what you would have suggested. I am assuming Joe’s group would have used the minute timeout.

  11. Annie says

    First, I have a question for Joe. He says that the child-centered parenting causes mental illness in children. When his methods are used on children who have behavioral issues and may have already been diagnosed with mental illness or may be headed that way, does the mental illness go away? What about later in life, which will affect their mental health more, the lessons they learned earlier in life or the corrective lessons applied using his techniques?

    Secondly, I read a book called _The Science of Parenting_, which describes Clara’s argument against time outs. It is a powerful argument and strongly influenced how I approached parenting. This book did not say never give time outs. It described a method of time outs some what similar to what Joe describes in that it was nonjudgmental and short, however, it also said that time outs were a last resort. They also said that a child who lashes out violently should always get a time out, every time they hit or kick, etc. It even describes a method for holds, similar to that described by Joe in his book.

    I don’t know if the methods described by the book or my application of it failed (I am not consistent and I avoid conflict. I know this about myself and struggle with it.) but I ended up with a bossy and aggressive five year old. For about two years I have been saddened by the awareness that he was an unhappy child and my fears for him when he started school. I read parenting books fairly regularly, and a book I read about bullying said that you can usually tell who the bully in a neighborhood is because his mother is the most stressed out and miserable woman on the block–and when the moms and kids got together for play dates, that always seemed to be me! My husband and I were both bullied as children, and the last thing we wanted to do was raise a bully in our home. Yet, our son was physically hurting me and his younger brother, actually drawing blood and leaving scars. In my frustration I had left the methods described in _The Science of Parenting_ behind when it came to misbehavior. I’d started sending my son to his room for longer and longer periods of time because I couldn’t deal with him. I honestly couldn’t be in the same room with him. I was getting migraines, loosing my temper, screaming at him, even throwing things at him. We’d both gone out of control because he was acting out continually and I was feeling helpless. After every outburst I would resolve to do better, to be a better parent. When my son started misbehaving I’d say “No, no, we don’t do X,” just as the book had advocated. He’d just ignore me until after hours or days of his ignoring me, acting out, and even berating me (“I told you I wanted chocolate milk and you didn’t bring me chocolate milk. Why didn’t you bring me chocolate milk? I’m seriously disappointed in you. I’m getting angry. Bring me my chocolate milk now!”) I’d eventually loose it again. I hated being at home with my own children (and I’m a stay-at-home mom) and all I wanted to do was leave.

    When I picked up Joe’s book _Raising Lions_ he seemed to be directly addressing what I was struggling with–my son even identified with the bad guys in books and movies. I have been trying to apply Joe’s methods at home and I for the first time feel like I have tools at my disposal. For the first time my son is listening to me and doing things like going upstairs and dressing himself in the morning. Getting dressed used to be an hour long struggle.

    I still believe that a child left alone to cry has the wash of harmful hormones across his brain described by Clara, and I still approach much of my parenting the way described in _The Science of Parenting_. For example, I still don’t believe in leaving my children to cry at bedtime, instead I sit with them while they are falling asleep every night. But, Joe’s methods have given me a quieter more peaceful house already. My son seems more relaxed and I feel more confident because I don’t have to get mad and to get my kids to listen to me. My son can sit in time out for one minute, then it’s done. We talk about it and then he can get a hug and go back to playing. I used to be so angry and frustrated with my son that I couldn’t touch him, couldn’t hold his hand when he asked me to, even though I knew it was wrong to be that way and detrimental to his well-being. Now I can sit with my son and I don’t have built up feelings of resentment because every situation would escalate to tempter tantrums and screaming and hitting. When he hits I say “Time out” and he goes. One minute later, it’s completely in the past. I think my children are becoming better friends now too because the older one isn’t bullying the younger one.

    I will continue to apply one minute time outs as described to Joe because they work, but I will also read the website Clara posted and read parenting books and blogs. By the time my kids are grown up, I might even have some understanding about how to be a good parent. Unfortunately, our kids end up being our guinea pigs as we learn how to parent on them.

  12. says

    Annie, so happy you could share your story here. I think many reasonable parents are experimenting as they go along looking out to find a method that works. I think you have taken the best of both worlds and found a place for your son and you to get along and communicate. Sounds like you faced your fears and found some answers. Kudos to you for mixing and matching.

  13. Stacey says

    I’m glad to learn that sitting children down and gently explaining situations to them is effective. I work in an Autism program, and perhaps the next time our 115 pound 1st grader decides to turn over a 5 foot long table while screaming at the top of her lungs because she doesn’t want to transition to circle time, I can just wait for her to finish ramming the classroom personnel, and then ask her if she’s ready to have a little chat about her behavior. Or, the next time our little fellow with Down’s Syndrome fancies that he might like to stick his hand down his soiled diaper and wipe it on other children, once he he is through, I will simply explain how his classmates might not enjoy it if they were to come down a nice case of Hepatitis.
    Children can be taught trust, respect and honesty–and be brought to a place of intrinsic motivation, WHILE learning that life has consequences. The two concepts do not have to be exclusive. If I am late to work every day, my supervisor is not going to sit down with me periodically to extol the virtues of punctuality. Self regulation is brought about by boundaries. Boundaries are enforced by consequences. Even as adults, without clear cut lines and expectations, institutions and society at large would crumble. Where is the groundwork of understanding to be laid?
    I am thrilled that the previous poster has such a wonderful husband. I am even more thrilled that she has been allowed to go through life seeing only the population of children who would respond to, and can benefit from this wonderful type of rearing. But if your only frame of reference-your “personal experience” as you put it, is HIS upbringing, then you should immediately excuse yourself from this dialogue. There are hoards and hoards of children out there on whom this method would have absolutely no effect at all–in fact, talking to them in the moment will only reinforce the behavior. By the way, even if we are not talking about children with special needs, but say, a class room with 3 or 4 strong willed, disruptive students, how does that work? Does the teacher stop teaching 20-25 times a day to light the fire pit and Kumbaya? People who have not lived this and been in the trenches trying to save children who are atypical, complex, challenging or even dangerous to themselves or others should stick writing literature filled with lofty, high ideals….but stay out of blogs filled with real people who know what they’re talking about.
    I took parenting classes filled with the latest research before even becoming pregnant. I started out employing similar tactics to those you are touting. I still prize an overabundance of understanding, love and communication with my children. I absolutely believe I am training them to be able to go out into the world with their own moral compass. However when my second child came along, I saw very quickly that that alone was not going to suffice for her. I tried exhausted all emotional, practical, and financial resources securing and engaging every type of therapy known to man, in an attempt to “fix” this child. My bookcase looks like a library of psychological and self help books. And guess what? After one of the best, most experienced child advocates in Southern California suggested I send her away to a residential facility in Texas in order to save her, and keep my family intact….Joe ultimately is the one who was brought in to work with her and changed her life forever. My girls’ story has a beautiful ending, but there are so many children who will have completely undesirable outcomes if caretakers of our children continue to buy into this type of namby pamby psychobabble. **Psychobabble: a form of prose using jargon, buzzwords and highly esoteric language to give an impression of plausibility through mystification, misdirection, and obfuscation. The term implies that the speaker of psychobabble lacks the experience and understanding necessary for proper use of a given psychological term.* (Just in case a definition was needed here, I found this one extremely applicable)

  14. says

    Stacey, I think I love you. :) But seriously, this whole discussion, when it started on Julie’s post about time outs being like spanking, threw me for a loop and had me questioning my own parenting methods. And with a newborn at home, I’m already on shaky ground trying to manage the transition for all three of us… me, my 3-year-old son, and the new baby. I started sitting and talking and asking questions and being different with my son. And what happened was my son started realizing (as he was already realizing in the weeks since the baby was born) that he had more clout than he thought. He started “deciding” he didn’t want to do things. He started thinking he was the decision maker and he was in charge. My inconsistency and waffling from what used to be clear expectations and boundaries actually created more problems than I had ever had with my child. I just came from a toddler birthday in which I saw frazzled parents using all kinds of methods and strategies to try to manage their children. And I realized that everyone does things differently… even if we all have the right intentions. I do not want my child to be a spoiled, bullying brat who thinks everything is about him. The methods recommended in Unconditional Parenting will not work for my family. They may work for others in my circle who have children with other temperaments. But I have decided that timeouts the way I have been doing them do work for our family. And I will continue to use them. I’m interested in hearing what others do for their children… always have been. What I’m not so much interested in is hearing other people tell me that my way is wrong. I said this before and I’ll say it again… it’s like religion. You have yours that works for you, and that’s great. Tell me about it. But I’d appreciate you not telling me that yours is right and mine is wrong. I love this website and these blogs, but the tone of attack against the two disagreeing authors is not the kind of thing I’m interested in. Tell me about what you believe and why you believe it, but don’t attack or belittle those who disagree with you. Attack the situation, not the person. I wish we could all remember that in this day and age.

  15. says

    Stacey and Barb, I think some of us have been saying on these two sides of an issue that there are so many ways to parent children. All are not effective but as parents we keep trying with our knowledge and some with self help books. I say whatever works for your particular child is what works. My son’s were so exposed to the whole feminist movement-we did not even have the same seats for dinner every night. I spent most of their developing years telling them girls could do anything boys could do as they pointed out to me continually that in some ways they just couldn’t compete on the same level (sports, education likes and dislikes, math and science etc. For years we went back and forth but today are they more sensitive to women’s rights, I hope so but you know peers can make all the difference and they had a lot of friends whose parents were not like me in activism. I still didn’t give up and I think that is what parenting is all about. You try thinks some stick others don’t but we keep trying. THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY. I just say breathe and do the best you can and a therapist later in life can figure it all out with them when they need therapy :). I am talking about the average bell shaped curve. Either extremes need totally different theories to help those kids that fit in extremes.

  16. says

    I wanted to share the following blog from my other site ( to show a bigger picture of how time-outs are used in a compassionate, nonjudgmental manner.

    19 years ago I was working as the Crisis Intervention Specialist at a summer camp for all-star behavior problem children. There were about 280 children that came from all over the country and a few from other countries. Most of them had been thrown out of several camps and schools before coming to us.

    That summer I noticed that the biggest problems came up in the “Education Department”. The teachers couldn’t keep any control or get anything done, there were constant arguments about behavior, and the kids hated being there. I think I understood the sources of the problems so the next summer I came back as the Director of Education in charge of the program for myself and six other teachers.

    There were three problems I sought to remedy. First, the nature of the curriculum focused on learning in the modalities that were most difficult for them (sitting still, waiting your turn, keeping your hands to yourself, being quiet, etc.). Second, there was judgment attached to the consequences and too much argument about behaviors. Third, there was no effective means of reigning in the constant disruptive behavior in order to get anything satisfying done.

    So I created a curriculum that required the children use their hands, move around, build things, call out, act things out and run around. We built 12-foot tall freestanding dinosaur skeletons, played casino games with poker chips to learn math, acted out scripts to practice reading and learn history, and ran all over the camp during science and math scavenger hunts.

    The next change I implemented was a clear behavior management system that utilized short breaks (time-outs) as its primary motivator. If Billy kicked Jason under the table I’d say, “Billy I need you to take a break for a minute just over there.” I wouldn’t engage any argument or discussion about the behavior. If the child attempted to argue or got upset I’d tell them, “You’re not in trouble, and it’s no big deal, but you do need to take a break for a minute and I’m not discussing it.” If they continued to argue I would double the break time. If they needed to be taken from the room then the break was five minutes.

    On the second day of class I’d add a warning prompt when a behavior was starting to become disruptive, “Do you need to take a break for a minute?” This was a serious question, not sarcasm. Children could always choose to step out of the lesson. Occasionally, a student would say, “yes” to needing a break and take one. The method communicated to the children that if they didn’t want to be in the lesson that was okay. It was the student’s prerogative to choose to participate in the class or not. It was the teacher’s prerogative to set and enforce the parameters of the lesson.

    It took one or two hours of class time for this behavior system to start working smoothly. At first the children got upset about getting a consequence and wanted to argue or tried to offer an apology or promise to stop the problem behavior in lieu of taking the one-minute break. But soon they realized how simple and easy the small consequence was. Because there were no long-term consequences when the break was over they returned to the activity of the group with fresh with a clean slate. There was also an emotional relief because problem behaviors weren’t being pointed out or even mentioned at all. These were children who were used to hearing about or discussing what they were doing wrong all day long. If a child was upset about being given a break or didn’t understand why we would be happy to talk tot hem about it after they had taken the short break. On average, once a week a child would choose to talk about he consequence they had just gotten. I’d assumed correctly that these children would be able to figure out for themselves what had caused the small consequence.

    By the third day of class the children would happily take the breaks that were given with very little argument, resistance or upset. Sometimes in a class of 12 eight-year-old boys I might give 10 or 15 one-minute time-outs in a single lesson. They would take the break at the end of which I’d ask them, “Are you ready to come back?” “Yes” “Come on in” and they’d return eagerly to the lesson.

    Classes became enormously productive. The children were proud of what they were accomplishing. There were no lectures, and almost no arguing, about behaviors.
    Some of the most satisfying days occurred when the first half of camp ended and half the campers went home and were replaced with campers coming for the second half only. The new classes were now composed of some children who were used to the program and some who were new to it. When a new camper would become irritated or attempt to resist the one-minute break the veteran campers would coach them through it with, “It’s no big deal. He’ll let you come right back” or “Your not in trouble. You should take the minute” or “Don’t argue. Joe never changes his mind.”

    On visitor’s day many parents were shocked that the first place their children dragged them to see was Education.

    The emotional judgment had effectively been taken out of the consequence. The teachers had an effective tool with which to manage behaviors and teach. The children were free from the emotional weight of constantly being reminded about what they had done wrong. Great things were accomplished in class that every child was proud of. The children did their best to self-regulate and respect their teachers and peers.

    I’ve seen classrooms that have a clear and effective behavior management method but curricular content that is dry and boring. I’ve also seen classrooms with exciting, well-varied curriculum and a poor or ineffective behavior management method. And neither of these comes close to motivating and inspiring like a classroom that has both.

    In the 18 years since that summer I’ve taught dozens of teachers to use immediate, nonjudgmental, short consequences to manage their classrooms. And at the same time taught them how to drop the use of harsher, more punitive consequences, reward and point charts, behavior contracts, threats and judgmental or moralistic language.

  17. Brenda says

    Excellent article — whether you agree with them or not, time-outs DO work, if they’re done correctly and consistently. I think the problem is that too many parents – myself included — expect the time-out method to work faster than it does. We think that after we say “no” to something 2-3 times, our toddler will get the hint. And when it doesn’t happen that way, we get frustrated and want to give up. But if you stick with it and show your child that you’re in it for the long haul, they will begin to modify their behavior to meet your – and their own – expectations. You’re also giving them a very valuable tool — the ability to accept discipline from teachers, coaches, etc. Because at the end of the day, even the best teacher can’t help a child who doesn’t want to be taught.

  18. holly k says

    I’m confused by the statement “time outs work”, which various posters have made.

    I view Time Outs like crash diets – they may work in the short term, but they aren’t a sustainable solution in the long term because they don’t change behavior (and in fact may cause further destructive behavior). It seems as though families who use Time Outs have to keep using them because while they may deescalate a situation and arrest a child’s behavior in the moment, they don’t work to stop the behavior in the first place. So a child will keep doing whatever it is that got him or her into a Time Out. A Time Out becomes a crutch that allows a family to focus on punitive action instead of helping a child avoid the disruptive behavior in the first place. Sure, drinking lemon juice for a week will help you lose 5 pounds, but it won’t help you create a healthy lifestyle so you can keep the weight off.

  19. says

    I disagree, Holly. They do work long term because they set a tone for the fact that when Mom says it she means it. My son rarely gets time outs any more. All I have to do is say “Do you need a time out?” and he’ll stop the behavior I’m hoping he’ll stop. He stops what he’s doing and recognizes that it’s not acceptable and it’s something I want him to stop. I can’t remember the last time I actually put him in a time out.

  20. holly k says

    I respect your position and I understand the need to demonstrate that Mom means business. But it seems to me that if you have to ask your son if he needs a time out, then the troublesome behavior has not been nipped in the bud. I wish we, as parents, could spend as much time creating the conditions for positive behavior (thereby making Time Outs unnecessary) as we do creating punishments.

  21. Julie says

    Time outs have worked great in parenting my two sons. I have a 19 year old and a 9 year old.. Both very different personalities. Time outs have been a successful component of discipline for both boys over the years. It gives a child the chance to regain composure, think about consequences of his actions and/or behavior, and to “chill out.” I’ve been a single mom for 5 years now and I have no back up. I use withholding of privileges as well, but time-out has is immediate and effective. I’m sure that it may not work for children of all temperaments, though. Parents usually know what works best for their children. (At least that is the hope.) I have to say, though, that I have not do not see anything positive coming out of a child-centered parenting style. that is something I am against.

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