Time-out or Re-do: What are we Teaching our Youth?

January 26th, 2017

By Billy Kaplan, LCSW

President & Clinical Director

We’re doing the best we can to guide our kids toward behaving, being respectful and being successful in life.

That’s why it’s so frustrating when some of our BEST parenting tricks, like using time-outs, don’t work.

In their book, No Drama Discipline, Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson agree that time-outs are ineffective. They give us many reasons after looking at a lot of research. Most importantly they ask, “what experience does a time-out give a child? Isolation. Even if you can offer a time-out in a loving manner, do you want your child’s repeated experiences when she makes a mistake to be time by herself, which is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection?”

I think we’re intending to let our kids know, through a time-out, that we reject their behavior. However, many of our youth experience life from a shame-based perspective (I am bad; I AM a mistake) instead of guilt-based perspective (I know what I DID was bad; I MADE a mistake), so isolating them gives them the experience of rejection (even though we don’t mean to do that) and it strengthens their sense of shame.

With SPACE, we talk about using “re-do’s” instead of “time-out’s” When our kids make a mistake, which they will, what the research shows according to Siegel and Bryson, is that when we have them give them repeated experiences of doing things the right way, their brains can wire to that, and they can start to do things the right way on their own. “Wouldn’t it be better to have her experience what it means to do things the right way? So instead of a time-out, you might ask her to practice handling a situation differently. If she’s being disrespectful in her tone or words, you can have her try it again and communicate what she’s saying respectfully. If she’s been mean to her brother, you might ask her to find three kind things to do for him before bedtime. That way, the repeated experience of positive behavior begins to get wired into her brain.”

So next time your foster child says or does something wrong, try asking them to “re-do” it. For instance, if they demand something like “give me more milk,” be clear: “sorry, dear, I can’t hear you when you make demands. How about you try that again and say ‘can I have more milk, please?’ so that I can hear you and get you want you want?”


This article is based on one written for Kaleidscope, Inc., whose mission is to empower children, youth and families impacted by abuse and neglect to build resourcefulness, resiliency and supportive relationships. Their vision is that all children and youth have the opportunity to enjoy safe and healthy lives nurtured by responsive adults.