How Your Child Can Actually Benefit From a Timeout

New research suggests sending your child to her room may improve behavior. 

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Photo by Brad Killer/Getty Images

While parenting books may advise you to reason with your kid when they misbehave, new research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention says otherwise. While reasoning and compromises provided immediate behavior improvements, punishments were more effective in changing behavior in the long-term.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University interviewed 102 mothers about instances when they had to discipline toddlers for hitting, whining, defiance, or not listening. Reasoning and compromising were two of the most effective responses to milder behaviors—like whining—while punishments, including timeouts or taking away belongings, were more appropriate for serious misdeeds—like hitting. Two months after the initial interview, researchers followed up with the mothers, and found that moms who compromised with toddlers who hit or defied the rules reported worse behavior in their children. Researchers concluded that moderate use of punishments (meaning less than 16 percent of the time), like sending a child to his or her room, improved behavior in the long-run.

For parents who argue timeouts ineffective, researchers explain that form of punishment is often used improperly. When disciplining, parents need to establish which behaviors are punishable by timeout in advance. For example, hitting or yelling might be cause for timeout, while whining might not. Spur-of-the-moment decisions may seem inconsistent and confuse a child.

"Parental discipline and positive parenting techniques are often polarized in popular parenting resources and in parenting research conclusions," lead researcher Robert Larzelere, PhD, said in a statement. "But scientifically supported parenting interventions for young defiant children have found that timeouts and other types of assertive tactics can work if they're administered correctly."