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Why my kids don’t need a time out

Once upon a time, I thought time outs worked. But this happened.

“Mommy, why don’t you have rules?”

My eldest Jamaine wanted to talk with me one day after they got home from a sleepover at their aunt’s place.

“Hmm…that’s an interesting question. Why do you ask?”

“Tita has a lot of rules, like no shouting and be in bed by 10pm. And when Kalia and I fight, we get time out too.”

“Well, different people have different rules. And when you’re sleeping over at another person’s place, you have to follow the rules in their house.”

“How about you, why don’t you have rules?”

“I don’t have rules but I give you guidelines and values. What’s the number one thing that Mommy always wants you to do?”

“Love Kalia? And get along well with each other.”

“Exactly right. Besides you and Kalia have always followed Mommy that’s why I never needed to have rules.”

“But Mommy, teacher always gets angry and shouts. And she has time out too.”

“Did you get time out?”

“No!” she said adamantly. “I always behave and listen to teacher.”

“I suppose teacher can’t help but get impatient when she’s handling 20 of you all at the same time. Mommy doesn’t give you time out because it never worked for us.”

Suddenly, my youngest daughter Kalia comes walking in the room. She had been listening to our conversation the whole time.

“But Mommy, remember when I was three years old, you put me in time out…” she said, her eyes downcast.

“Oh I remember that!” Jamaine said, “Mommy put me in time out too.”

Then came the flashback I didn’t want to remember

It was about two years ago.

We were in the playroom.

My girls were playing something I can no longer remember and I was working in my office corner.

Suddenly, there was fighting and crying, and I turned just in time to see my little girl hitting her older sister and the older sister hitting back. And then there was more crying and shouting.

“But you started it!” the little one said.

“You’re not my sister anymore. I don’t want you!” the bigger one retorted.

The heat started boiling in my chest, climbing up to my throat.

Hitting was a major offense in my book. I felt so fired up, I grabbed two plastic chairs and put them on opposite ends of the room.

“Both of you, go to your corner!” I shouted.

My girls were stunned. I rarely shouted so they knew I was really upset.

Heads hanging low, both of them walked to their chairs.

As soon as I sat on my own chair, I felt a wave of guilt for shouting at my girls and losing my temper.

I looked at them and they were both looking at me, eyes pleading to stop the time out and to let them leave the corner.

Time out should be good, I thought to myself. Maybe one more minute.

I looked at the clock counting the seconds. I motioned both of them to come to me.

Group hug.

“Mommy put you in time out because you were fighting and hitting. I wanted both of you to have some space.”

“Sorry Mommy.”

“Remember what our hands are for…” I asked as I held both of their hands.


“And what did we say about being sisters? Sisters love each other.”

“Yes Mommy.”

And as kids often do, my girls bounded out of my arms and started playing again as if nothing happened.

I was quite pleased with results of the time out. It worked.

Or so I thought

Later that night, as we were about to go to sleep, the little one approached me with sad look on her face.

“Mommy….” she said slowly.

“Yes baby?” I turned to her.

“Do you still love me?”

“Of course, I love you!” I said as I hugged her tight.

Tears started streaming down her face.

“I don’t like time out…” she sobbed. “I don’t like being in the corner.”

“I’m sorry you felt that way baby,” I said.

I never realized how giving my daughter a time out made her feel so UNLOVED.

That was the first — and last time — I gave my girls a time out.

Do time outs work for children?

I can’t remember now where I first got the concept of giving kids time outs as a disciplinary action.

Some people say it works as long as you follow the guidelines to do it effectively: giving warnings, designating one spot, one minute per year of age and talking post time out.

Still, others say time outs are not effective because they alienate children. It makes them feel rejected.

Both of them could be right.

But ultimately it’s you who can tell and decide if giving time outs do benefit your child.

As for me, that one important question from my youngest daughter was enough for me to decide that time outs are not beneficial for my children.

The method just didn’t match my intention.

And I had to find more loving ways, not just to deal with misbehavior, but most importantly to help them learn the value of good behavior.

What works then?

What I learned does not work is actually giving kids warnings like

“If you do this again, you’re going to be in time out.”

Or, “No more hitting. One more time and you’ll be in the corner.”

Both of the warnings above do not work because:

  • They incite a feeling of rebellion and suggest repeat misbehavior.
  • They are unclear statements about what you actually want to happen.

I’ve found that children always behave the way you expect them to.

What does work is saying clearly what you want your child to do.

If you want your child to stop hitting, say “Stop hitting.”

If you want your child to quit playing with her food, say “Please eat properly and finish your food.”

Of course, there’s a whole dynamic around raising obedient children.

But oftentimes, just using clear and positive communication is a good start.

Now my children are nowhere near perfect and they still do fight and disobey me sometimes.

It’s always a huge test of my patience when that happens.

But instead of time outs, we have what I like to call “Peace Time”.

I physically separate my girls from each other and let them choose where they want to stay so they can calm down. Then I tell them to come to me when they’re ready to talk.

There’s less resistance, more compassion. And ultimately, more love. Now tell me

Have you given your kids a time out? Do you think time outs are effective? What method of discipline has worked for you?

It’s okay, this is a judge free zone so feel free to share.

As always, thank you for being here and spending some time with me.

Peace and love,

  • I was recently interviewed by Mariel of The Learning Basket about positive discipline. Click here to read her article on MomCenter.