I am not a fan of parenting magazines. First, they reinforce the impression that child-rearing is a complicated affair, requiring consulting with “experts” on a regular basis. Second, with every issue, the publications raise the Good Mommy Bar by giving women (their nearly exclusive consumers) more things to think about and more things to do. Third, they often render conflicting information and advice. Fourth, the advice they dispense is often bad.
A case in point: An article in the April 2017 issue of Parents magazine purported to tell parents how to properly use time-outs. I was one of the primary people who popularized time-outs. During the early years of this syndicated column (1976-1990), I often recommended it and even hold the dubious distinction of coming up with the “1 minute of time out for every year of a child’s age” formula.
I eventually concluded, however, that time-outs work only with children who are already well-behaved. These children only need occasional and minor “adjustments,” which can include a time-out. By itself, however, a time-out is too weak a consequence to have a significant impact on a child who does not fit that description.
Using psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians as its expert sources, Parents makes the same recommendations I was making 35 years ago, with one exception. Parents cites a study done by researchers at Oklahoma State University that found that the need for a time-out is reduced if parents issue warnings, such as, “Billy, if you do that again, I’m going to put you in a time-out.” I don’t doubt that, but it’s misleading. The goal of any disciplinary consequence is the elimination of misbehavior. At best, warnings result in nothing more than a temporary abatement (which is what the study measured), and usually make matters worse over time.
For the most part, the “New and Improved Time-Out Technique” that Parents magazine describes echoes my pro-time-out columns from the 1980s, before I concluded that when it came to difficult children, a time-out was like trying to stop a charging elephant with a flyswatter. By adding warnings into the mix, however, “New and Improved” becomes “Even Worse Than Before.”
But by far the article’s most absurd recommendations are highlighted in a sidebar titled, “What If My Child Refuses to Go to Time-Out?” In that event, parents are advised to negotiate (“If you don’t go to time-out, then you lose television for the rest of the day”), negotiate even harder (“If you go to time-out now and sit quietly, I will reduce your time from 3 minutes to 2”), or put themselves in a time-out. Yes, if the child refuses to go to a time-out, the parents should go to their own room, saying something along the lines of “I’m not going to talk to you for 3 minutes because you hit your brother.”
Don’t laugh. Some parents who read the article are going to do exactly that and wind up feeling even more wracked with frustration and guilt. Like I said: “Even Worse Than Before.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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