Published On: 1 May 2024Tags: ,

Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities (SFSC) has always considered the ways that ‘time out’ might be implemented in different situations and is sensitive to the needs of children and families.  Training always allows for exploration of this with practitioners. This has included discussions on when to use Time In as an alternative to Time Out, practical issues such as space, as well as  contextual issues. 

In recent SFSC Core Training and two-day Refreshers, practitioners have continued to raise questions on the use of ‘Time Out’ within the curriculum. This has included discussions over its effectiveness in managing challenging behaviour, versus the potential harm it might give rise to. In this article, our Head of Training and Curriculum, Bernadette, explores this further.

SFSC and other parent programmes are united in their opposition to physical chastisement, shouting and threatening children with cruel, illogical, or unfair consequences. This is due to the predictable injurious outcomes that may occur, including damage to the parent-child relationship, as well as other immediate and longer-term mental and emotional discord to children.

As a discipline strategy, SFSC’s Time Out is a form of isolation, a corrective consequence used to decrease only certain negative behaviours.  When we use this practice, children aged developmentally between three and ten are removed from all positive attention and given time and space to think about their behaviour.  Importantly, the reason for the Time Out should not be because a child is tiresome, very upset and unable to regulate their feelings, nor should it be used for an accident or innocent mistake. Rather it should be used for a child being deliberately defiant in relation to a known family rule, a specific unkind or blatant disrespectful behaviour or when confrontation and logical consequences have not been effective.  

Some parents love this strategy, but SFSC is clear that Time Out should be used sparingly, it should not be perceived as a catch all for every negative or inappropriate behaviour.  Children should know in advance behaviours that will result in a Time Out and be given fair opportunity to avoid it, but should not be walking on eggshells for fear they will end up in Time Out.  To expel a child to Time Out because they are out of control would further distress them and convey a message that they’ll be isolated if they express challenging emotions, and that only their ‘pleasant’ feelings are warranted or safe to display.  Children can however remove themselves from everyday situations if they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed to self-regulate, and should be praised for doing so to encourage this appropriate behaviour. This describes the everyday term for someone taking ‘time out’ for themselves and must not be confused with the corrective strategy that is Time Out.

Critics of Time Out also argue that the experience of isolation can cause children to feel abandoned during an emotional crisis, leading to a power struggle instead of teaching children to regulate their emotions.  Some favour ‘Time In’ as a more nurturing alternative whereby the parent empathises with the struggling child, to validate their feelings as they calm down.  SFSC acknowledges that both approaches, Time Out and Time In have value and do not have to be at odds with each other. Parents should have a combination of strategies that allow them to be both structured and nurturing in promoting appropriate behaviours to build the three S’s (self-esteem, self-discipline, and social competence), and discourage negative, inappropriate acts.  At the point Time Out is presented in the SFSC curriculum, facilitators should have established that it is better to adopt a culture of addressing positive behaviour as it occurs through praise and the use of positive attention. 

The Race Equality Foundation continues to review and support the inclusion of Time Out within the SFSC curriculum, with several important provisions, especially for neurodivergent children.  We acknowledge that if used inappropriately, there is potential to cause harm, as exists with other strategies. It is important for facilitators to support parents’ understanding of all strategies including the purpose and process.  

As we do not propose to call timeout on Time Out, additional time will be allocated during Core Training and Refresher courses to enable facilitators to support parents to safely implement the use of this strategy, if they choose to use it.