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Why ‘Time Out’ is ‘Out’!


Tuesday 26 September 2017

If you were asked to wear a jumper today that you had 10 years ago, would you? Probably not; it might be outdated, not in fashion, it doesn’t suit your figure or perhaps it doesn’t fit! A similar question - would you use time out to support a child’s behaviour today? We can say the same thing about both; they are outdated, and don’t fulfil the needs they did 10 years ago. More importantly, we are better informed and know that what was ‘fashionable’ 10 years ago, is not the current trend today.

When you hear the words time out, what words comes to mind? Time out of a situation? Out of time? Last chance?

The concept of ‘Time out’ was introduced to us in 2004 (13 years ago!) by Supernanny. She had a tough, no-nonsense approach in controlling children’s behaviour. Conveying messages that a child has a time-limit to resolve a problem, and where they don’t (or can’t, in most cases) they are removed from the situation. However, in removing the child – do they then learn these skills to solve the problem the next time? We now know, and are supported in this by Aistear and Síolta, that supportive interactions, rather than control is more effective.

Looking at time-out, it focuses on what the child cannot do, or what they possibly don’t understand due to their age. In isolating the child, not only are we ignoring their capabilities, we are also denying children of their rights. The right to play, right to expression, right to have a voice, and the right to education.

I remember several years ago, hearing a 3-year-old child angrily stating ‘ah, ah Tony – time out’, and watching the child place themselves onto the chair in the corner of the room for no explicit reason. If we take a moment to consider messages we are sending to this child through using time out. In removing him continually from the situation, we the adult, are reinforcing the message that he was wrong, more-so, showing emotions, is wrong. More so, we are sending a message, the adult knows best.

At the same time, we are placing him in front of his peers while he is experiencing huge emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration. Not forgetting, the older the child, the longer they need to stay away from their peers, believing the 4-year-old child ‘should know better’. While, we as the adult are stepping away, just at the time when the child needs us. We are placing them onto a stage for all to see, all because they cannot manage their own emotions….

Reverting to the saying ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. We now know isolating practices do not support the child, this has been reaffirmed by the Early Years Services Regulations (2016), and Children’s First Guidelines.


So, what does support the child? We, as the adult need to support the child in developing self-regulation skills, in doing this, we can transform the experience into one which supports the child’s relationship skills and competence. Self-regulation involves the child managing their impulses and pausing from doing something e.g. pushing a child to get a toy. Children aren’t born with these skills—they are born with the potential to develop them. Over time, the child will develop the skills to self-register, and acknowledge the feelings they are experiencing and respond efficiently and effectively to the everyday challenges they face (Shanker, 2013). As highlighted by Aistear (2009), it reminds us of the importance of quality interactions, and the role of the adult in supporting the child’s well-being.

However, as the adult, we need to be responsive to each individual child as they are unique and will develop at their own pace. More importantly, we need to remind ourselves what we have learned from ‘time out’- the adult cannot ‘control’ the child’s behaviour however, can positively empower the child in developing relevant skills and strategies.

To find out more on supporting children in developing self-regulation skills and managing behaviour within your room, please see our nurturing well-being programme.

2 comments Comments

2 Responses

  1. Mary Coleman says:

    Can you have this write up in a printable edition for staff to read

  2. Maire Corbett says:

    Hi Mary, a great idea to share with staff and of course, there is absolutely no problem with you printing this post, or indeed any post from the Scéalta blog. We love to see posts being shared! If you’re on a laptop, as you know, just right click and hit print. If you read on a device other than a laptop, you can share to Facebook or Twitter by clicking the icons at the top of the article, or, just email the link to anyone you want to share with.

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