Creative Child

The Trouble with Separation-Based Discipline Part 1

by Rebecca Eanes

When it came to light that spanking was a harmful practice which caused increased aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental health problems, many parents switched to using time-out to discipline their children. At the time, this seemed to be a step in the right direction. Many touted time-out as positive discipline, and it started to be recommended by pediatricians, counselors, and parenting “experts.” However, since it became popular, studies have been done to assess if it’s really helpful for correcting behavior and what the effects are on the developing child. It turns out that discipline tactics that use forced separation are emotionally and psychologically damaging to children. The reason is that these practices attack the most basic need of all children - attachment. 

 

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To understand the developmental science behind separation (and to find out how we can discipline in a way that doesn’t harm), I consulted a couple of esteemed authors who are experienced and knowledgeable in child development. Bridgett Miller is the author of What Young Children Need You to Know and an authorized facilitator at the Neufeld Institute. I asked her, “Why are separation-based techniques not ideal?” She replied, “Many people don’t realize that they [time-outs] can come at a cost to healthy emotional development. Separation-based techniques, like the popular approach “time out,” use what children care most about, against them. Knowing that a young child’s greatest need is to be physically close to their primary attachments, it makes sense that separating them from their parents may get some children to change their behaviour, some of the time.”

 

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Bridgett told me that , when time-outs stop working, it’s because the child’s emotional system has been overworked and this knocks out their desire to connect with us. They, in a sense, have given up on connection and have shut down their feelings because it hurts too much. She says that this is the brain’s attempt to protect the child from feeling the unbearable intensity of physical and emotional separation. When we take away the physical closeness they require, we inadvertently push them away emotionally in the moments they most need to feel a secure heart connection.

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