A few people have asked me to talk about positive parenting and why Time-outs can not be part of positive parenting. Of course, time-out and removal of privileges are the most popular forms of discipline and they are better than spanking, there is no physical punishment but you have to remember that doesn’t make them positive.

I decided to wait until I went to see the discussion by Gordon Neufeld before talking about it… so that is now what I am doing… This post is going to be a mish-mash of what I have learned a bit everywhere…
But, the way that Neufeld presents his ideas put it into perspective so I am going to use a lot of that… he gave me kind of one of the “missing links” that I have looked for… (this is a long one… bear with me 🙂 )
So I went to the talk by Gordon Neufeld yesterday…. He was discussing his book “Hold onto your Kids“… and It was great!!

He started the presentation by asking what makes a child easy to parent…

Easy right?

The “easy” child wants to please us, wants to do things for us, wants to be with us, loves us, wants to follow us, wants to be good for us etc?

Wouldn’t it be easy if our children were always like this?

How to come about it though?…

His theory (which makes complete sense) is that we have been going around it the wrong way. We try to fix the behaviour instead of fixing the problem behind it. We look to quick fixes that work to correct behaviour yet hinder the relationship and attachment, when those are the most important factors.

Which brings us to the Theory of Attachment.

Attachment is important in any relationship and not only is it important but is required for a relationship to work well for everyone.

What does Attachment do?

  • It arranges a hierarchy
  • It renders the other person endearing
  • Brings us home
  • Creates a compass point
  • Activates proximity
  • Evokes a desire to be good

So the Attachment actually fixes things in a way that the child who is well attached is inclined to want to please us, do things for us, be with us, loves us, follow us, be good for us etc… They fall into being that “easy child” (most of the time)

Neufeld talks about 6 ways that we attach. These should be all done by the age of six within a good attachment, though it is never too late.

You can see the correlation with ages…. From infant, toddler, pre-schooler etc…

These stages are

  • Senses (all of the physical ways that promote attachment)
  • Sameness (wanting to do what the other is doing)
  • Belonging and Loyalty (The “mine, mine” stage)
  • Significance (feeling that we matter)
  • Feeling (giving your heart away, falling in love)
  • Being Known (wanting the other to KNOW you, telling all, sharing all)

A child then that is truly attached will do whatever they can to please the parent, will be good because they want to be good, they want to be with the parent, they love them, they want to share their secrets….

When you have their hearts, you have access to their minds, they are open to learn.

We learn from those whom are attached to. The teacher that we loved, that made the most impact on us, the one that we learned the most from is the teacher that has won our hearts. We need to be attached in order to teach, we need to be attached in order to learn.
However, this attachment also makes a child emotionally dependant and they are very vulnerable. This can be seen as negative, but is important as they are not yet ready to be on their own emotionally until they step away by themselves (and not towards a peer, but really on their own two feet)

Attachment therefore, is not only important in the early years, it is important all the time.

He explains that at the moment Childhood is getting Longer while Parenthood is getting shorter. Unlike a few generations ago when children were going out of childhood at 13-14 years of age, it is now happening at about 21-22 years of age.

However, at 13-14 years of age, parents are starting to detach from their kids and leave them to be with their peers… but they are not yet ready to be left in that position yet, and because they are not yet ready they will not simply detach and be ready to be on their own. Unlike a bird who is pushed out of the nest before they believe they are ready and end up flying, children who are pushed out of the nest too early will not fly but simply they will find another nest.

Therefore, We must let a child leave us, Hold onto them until they let go (and the attachment doesn’t even have to be broken) and not push them into the arms of their peers.

As a poster on a forum eloquently stated

“His theory is that we all NEED to have some compass point in our lives to guide us. If we as parents don’t provide that compass point, children will seek it out elsewhere, i.e. friends. The problem then is you really have the blind leading the blind. By inviting dependence, both physical and emotional when kids are young (even teenagers) you give them the time to mature to the point where they have developed a true sense of self. One in which they can make wise decisions based on their own moral compass that they developed, which they have learned from you”…… “Independence isn’t a “skill” that you learn by being forced into situations that demand it. It is something that develops with time and maturity when your attachment needs are met.” (sassafras12 at MDC)

Sounds all good right… child is attached and therefore Wants to be good so is good… Nah.. Of course it can’t be that easy…. Children are in a learning process, they will test boundaries, they are instinctive, they don’t always think things through before they act… it is normal and natural that situations arise and of course during the time that they are with us there will be times that they need to be directed. There are times when they do things that are not right, again…they are learning.

However, This is where the idea of discipline comes in…

Problems that arise do need to be dealt with but they need to be dealt with in ways that foster attachment and not in ways that hinder it.

The ways of discipline that are very popular at the moment do work, and work quite effectively however, they come at a price….they work in a way that is playing with the deepest fears and vulnerabilities of a child.

Yep… this is where Time-outs come in…

I have to admit that we did try time-outs, not to the extent explained below but still a form of time-out. They are far from the beatings that I went through, they are not physical, they are said to work, everyone is doing it and I just didn’t know what else to do. We did it a few times. It felt awful and I knew that it wasn’t right. I knew that it wasn’t what I should be doing with Xavier, and guess what? It didn’t work, it made things worse. We stopped, I starting researching…

Now, I understand why it felt so wrong, Now, we are working on correcting the damage.

The rules of Time-outs are as follows….and there are MANY books and sources that outline how a time-out is supposed to work and they all repeat the same thing in most part… here is one…

Time-outs are explained as a way to “remove positive reinforcement for unacceptable behaviour” (AAP)

  • “Time-out should occur in a noninteresting yet safe place. Your child should not be allowed to watch television or to interact with other people when in time-out, including you.”
  • Send your child to the time-out chair or room. If he doesn’t go there immediately, lead him by the hand or carry him.
  • When you’re putting your child in time-out, briefly explain what she has done so she can connect the behaviour with the time-out. A simple phrase such as “No hitting” is enough. Do not lecture and do not spank. Time-out is not the time for teaching or preaching.
  • Do not negotiate with a child in time-out. Completely ignore him, even if he shouts, bangs or apologizes.
  • When time-out is over, it is over. Create a fresh start by offering a new activity. Don’t discuss the unwanted behavior, just move on. “


Sounds ok right… or does it?

Say the situation is hitting…. most likely a emotional reaction to a situation but still a no-no

Child hits, get sent to time-out, stays there for three minutes (or whatever time according to age), comes back and plays like nothing happened… next time they hit, same thing happens, after a while they may (or may not) stop hitting… in most cases, it works!

So you say… What’s the problem with that? The Child doesn’t do the behaviour anymore, there wasn’t physical punishment involved… problem solved… right?

However, the Question is….WHY does it work? At what Expense? What really happens when I child is in Timeout? Why is it so powerful?


What is the child learning by being in timeout? Not to hit? Not to get caught? OK… but that is not enough! In Following the rules of time out, you are not supposed to talk about it anymore then say “no hitting” because “it is not a time for teaching or preaching”, you are not even supposed to reflect back on the situation (when I did T.O’s I always reflected back, I couldn’t just let it go without talking about it)…

So, in following the rules (and the AAP says that if you don’t follow the rules it will not work) then what tools are you giving the child that finds himself in the same situation next time? Where are the opportunities to teach alternatives? What is the child really learning when being punished?

OK… so it is not really teaching the child anything but still…. What is wrong with that if it works?

This comes to the most important point of why I don’t believe that Time-outs can be done without hindering Attachment…

What happens is that though it is not a physical punishment, it is an emotional punishment

The thing that makes Timeouts work, the thing that is essential to time-outs are the fact that you must not have any interaction with the child, you must ignore them… You must separate yourself from them during that time.

This is where the big problem is.. In putting a child in time-out we are in essence withdrawing our affection to get the point across. We are teaching them that in order for us to love them they have to be good, they have to obey, if they don’t obey we don’t love them. It is always important to remember that children don’t understand the parents intention, they understand the parents actions. Furthermore, In Neufeld eyes (at least what I understood last night) when we do time-outs, we are putting the child in a situation that in which we are putting our attachment on the line because a child’s vulnerability in the relationship. When faced with adversary, the child meets it it with resistance. Therefore, time-outs take away from the attachment and instills resistance in a child. So, though the initial behaviour may stop, is the price really worth it and what has the child really learned at the end?

So… alternatives…. Well, we are in the learning process… but for now and what I believe is the best way to go is this…

We get down on Xavier’s level, we ask him what happened, we talk about alternatives, we connect, we give him the words to express his feelings, we reflect what he is telling us. There are times that I do ask him if he wants to cool down alone. He has the choice if he wants to go or not, he has the choice to ask me to go with him.

Some people have the idea that you can’t give positive attention when a child misbehaves because it reinforces the behaviour.

I don’t believe in this line of thought.

I agree that the behaviour shouldn’t be rewarded, but the child themselves should be supported. There is a difference.

A child that hits, needs to know that the behaviour is wrong, but you don’t love them less because of it. The need you to guide them, teach them what is appropriate instead of only what is not.