sealPurdue News

June 2000

Parents should use 'time-out' judiciously, expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University expert on parenting says the use of a "time-out" may be an effective way to control behavior in the short-term, but it will not equip children to manage their own behavior as they grow older.

"I've heard a lot of pediatricians recommend this form of discipline almost like a prescription," says Judith Myers-Walls, an associate professor of developmental studies and Extension specialist in human development. "The recommendation is one minute of "time-out" per year of the child's age and per infraction. But it's not that simple, and it shouldn't be automatic."

Myers-Walls says discipline is ideally about teaching, and parents must remember that there is not a single teaching method that will always work in every situation with every child. She says the "time-out" method can be effective if a child is losing control, but it should not be used as a form of punishment.

"If a child's behavior becomes unmanageable and inappropriate for a certain situation, it can be helpful to remove him or her from that situation and give the child private time and space to settle down and regain some control," Myers-Walls explains. "Whether or not that will happen depends on the temperament of the child. If the youngster will not stay in his bedroom, for instance, and the parent ends up having to stand outside the door to keep it closed, it becomes a struggle of wills and the child isn't learning anything about how to manage anger."

While Myers-Walls readily admits that there isn't always a lot of room to negotiate with a 2-year-old, she says it's still important that any form of discipline be constructive.

"It should teach the child something about what is reasonable behavior and what is not, and not be just a demonstration of power on the part of the parent," she explains. "It's that understanding of what is reasonable and expected that will help the child get along in the larger communities of school and the workplace as they get older."

CONTACT: Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959;

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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