As experts urge parents to move away from the outdated disciplinary strategy, one mom is explaining how she replaced time-out with a "calming corner."

By Maressa Brown
July 09, 2020
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In 1969, writing in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, American psychologists suggested that as an disciplinary alternative to violent techniques like spanking, kids ought to be punished for "unacceptable" behavior with be social isolation—aka time-out. Half a century later, experts and parents are realizing that this is a misguided and antiquated strategy.

Now, a mom on TikTok is shedding light on the issue by sharing her son's time-out alternative, which she refers to as a "calming corner."

Why One Mom Says She Stopped Doing Time-Outs

Posting under the name Maartemami on the popular app, the TikToker recently shared a clip in which she explains that she chose to do away with time-outs for her 5-year-old son, "because there are such big emotions that lead up to time-outs, and it didn’t feel effective to me to leave my son to sit alone with these big, scary emotions."

Instead, she has created a "calming corner" where he can take breaks. The corner is an area set up on the side of her sofa, where her son can learn "to manage emotions and feelings first in a healthy way, and then deal with consequences after."

“This gives him a super comfy, safe space as an outlet to reflect, center his mind, process his thoughts and regulate his emotions,” she explained. "The calming corner allows him to do this because he can meditate, do breathing exercises, or just sit and relax and calm himself via the tools that appeal to his five senses." The tools include everything from squishy toys to a plasma bulb to essential oils, gum, and a cordless sound machine, which Maartemami noted in a separate post are all $5 or less.

This doesn't mean that her son doesn't have consequences for problematic behavior. But those look more like compromised tech time, extra chores, or restricting special toys versus time-out.

TikTok commenters applauded the mom for her approach. "The next generations are gonna be so evolved, this is amazing!" wrote one user. "I wanna do this when/if I have kids."

“I’ve never understood why we punish kids for … having emotions,” shared another.

Maartemami explained in a follow-up TikTok post that she didn't really have to introduce her son to his corner in a formal way, as they had already begun talking more about the importance of acknowledging and processing his emotions in order to get back to feeling centered, or having a "strong mind" (aka mental health).

What Experts Say

As Maartemami and other TikTokers pointed out, it can feel tough to justify time-outs when they seem to harm kids more than help them in a time of distress. Experts agree. Although the point of time-out is to encourage a child to reflect on misbehavior, pediatrician Nadia Sabri points out in a Washington Post article, "Kids don’t have the advanced cognitive skills to think abstractly. Emotional modulation and regulation occurs with development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which doesn’t fully develop until adolescence."

Bonnie Compton, a child and adolescent therapist, parenting coach and author of Mothering With Courage, elaborates to Parents.com that kids in time-out are more likely to stew in their anger versus engage in productive self-reflection.

Maartemami's son's "calming corner" is what Compton refers to as a "time-off" space. She says that giving a child the choice to hang out in this space—versus being forced to sit in a corner or go up to their room—is key. "You're actually motivating and empowering your child to make choices for themselves," Compton says. "As parents, we want to control our child's behavior, and when we try, they resist. If you're giving them the opportunity to make a choice and take responsibility for their own emotions, and you're also modeling that for them."

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The Takeaway on Time-Out

It bears noting that, according recent research, time-outs aren't hurting kids. For a study of nearly 1,400 families that was published in Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics last year, researchers analyzed developmental data on children beginning around age 3 and continuing up until age 11 or 12. Kids disciplined with time-out were not at increased risk for anxiety, depression, aggression, rule-breaking behaviors, or self-control problems compared to those who came from families that eschewed time-outs. Creativity scores were also the same.

But judging from Maartemami's experience, as well as child psychologists' and pediatricians' concerns about how little self-isolation is actually benefiting kids, calming corners and time off spaces might be a healthier way to go.

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