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23 August 2019


Independent experts are calling for the return of an evidence-based approach to time-out, reassuring parents and professionals that the correct use of the technique is both effective and supported by attachment theory.

“Even UCLA professor of psychiatry Dan Siegel, the author of No Drama Discipline who is widely believed to be anti-time out, supports the technique,” says Clinical Psychologist, Dr Melanie Woodfield, in a piece published yesterday on The Conversation.


Dr Woodfield holds a research fellowship at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.


Her article dispels a number of myths and misunderstandings that have arisen in recent years, while underscoring the importance of parents having access to accurate, up-to-date information, in regard to both decision-making and using techniques such as time-out correctly.


Earlier this year, University of Sydney academic Professor Mark Dadds published research showing that time-outs were an effective and positive behavior management tool when used properly.


Professor Dadds was quoted at the time expressing his surprise at the gap between popular opinion and research, regarding the use of time-out in situations where children had previously experienced trauma:  "This myth [that time-out could reinforce attachment problems] has become so pervasive that groups around the world, including in Australia, who are responsible for child welfare, are now recommending to parents of traumatised children that they should not use those strategies.”

The strategy of time-out has also been, in some respects, a victim of its own success. Because of its effectiveness as an alternative to harmful forms of discipline such as spanking and yelling, its popularity meant that many parents adopted it as a strategy without fully understanding its proper use, with some even misusing it.

As a result, rather than discouraging its use, a more urgent priority for many child protection advocates is ensuring parents know how to use time-out correctly.

[Proper use of time-out does not involve isolating the child or withdrawing love or attachment. It’s also not intended to be used excessively, harshly, or in anger. The aim is to give the child a chance to self-regulate and learn new skills and behaviors. It also gives parents a chance to de-escalate in high risk situations.]

In his original paper, co-authored with Dr Lucy Tully and published in American Psychologist, Professor Dadds took a step further and likened the myths about time-out to those about vaccines causing autism, saying that the spread of such misinformation was itself harmful.

Stopping parents from using time-out, especially those whose children had significant serious behavior disorders, “may be ill-considered and deny children in need access to an effective evidence-based procedure,” the paper concluded.

It’s believed that the internet played a key role in spreading misinformation about time-out. In 2014, Time magazine published an article under the later-disputed heading “Time-Outs are Hurting Your Child”. Although the article’s authors, one of which was Dan Siegel, quickly moved to clarify and correct their stance via The Huffington Post, the original piece spawned hundreds of news stories that took on a life of their own.