Contrary to misleading reports in the media and online, the disciplinary strategy of "time-out" is not associated with increased behavior problems or other long-term negative effects in children, reports a study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.
From age three to fifth grade, there is no difference in indicators of child emotional and behavioral health for children whose parents did and did not use the time-out strategy, concludes the new research by Rachel M. Knight, PhD, of University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, Ann Arbor, and colleagues. "We hope our findings will be helpful to parents who see confusing and at times alarming claims of negative side effects of time-out," Dr. Knight comments.
Follow-up study questions alarming reports about time-outs
The researchers analyzed data from a follow-up study of children enrolled in Head Start programs (the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Study). Parents responded to questionnaires regarding child discipline and mental health at three times: when the child was three years old, in pre-kindergarten, and in fifth grade.
The study included a racially/ethnically diverse sample of nearly 1,400 parents. When their child was three years old, 28 percent of parents stated that they used the time-out strategy. Indicators of the children's emotional and behavioral health and relationship with parents were assessed for parents who did and did not use time-out.
On adjusted analysis, parent-reported use of time-outs had no negative long-term effects on child behavior. "No differences were found with respect to child internalizing problems, including anxiety and depression, externalizing problems, including aggression and rule-breaking behavior, or self-control," Dr. Knight and coauthors write. The results were similar on propensity score analysis, which accounted for factors affecting the likelihood of using time-out.
Consistent with previous studies, parent-reported use of physical punishment was associated with increased child externalizing problems. Depression in parents was associated with increases in both internalizing and externalizing problems in the child.
"Time-out is a widely used child discipline strategy and one of the only strategies currently recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics," according to the authors. Decades of research have supported the effectiveness of time-out. However, some online information and media reports have claimed that time-out has negative effects for example, that it increases behavior problems and reduces the quality of the parent-child relationship.
The new findings, based on long-term follow-up data, show no significant difference in development, behavior, or emotional problems for children whose parents reported using time-out versus those who did not. The researchers call for further research on the short- and long-term effects of time-out, including studies in a variety of populations and age groups.
"Parents often resort to the Internet and social media for guidance, but the Internet provides inaccurate information for families regarding the use of time-out," Dr. Knight and colleagues conclude. They suggest developing ways of presenting research findings in a "readily accessible and easily digestible format...to assuage possible parental concerns and promote the use of this highly effective child discipline strategy."
About the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics
Written for physicians, clinicians, psychologists and researchers, each bimonthly issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics (www.jrnldbp.com) is devoted entirely to the developmental and psychosocial aspects of pediatric health care. Each issue brims with original articles, case reports, challenging cases and reviews the latest work of many of today's best known leaders in related fields that help professionals across disciplines stay current with the latest information in the field. Relevant areas covered include learning disorders, developmental disabilities, and emotional, behavioral, and psychosomatic problems. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics is the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.