The hand or the chair: What science says about physical punishment and time-outs.


Do you want pow pow? You wan’t me to spank you?

To hit, or not to hit… Am I choosing right?

Today’s parents go far and beyond to care for and protect their children, using methods not considered even 20 years ago, such as expensive and “fancy” carseats (Gershoff, 2010). The modern age of raising children has also affected the way parents choose to discipline or punish them (Gershoff, 2010 & Everett, 2010).  Studies report that about half of parents still use some form of what they refer to as “corporal punishment,” or open-handed non injurious methods to discipline their children, and that more than half of children will have experienced some sort of physical punishment by the time they reach their adolescent years (Gershoff, 2010). These percentages are high despite growing and supported research suggesting that corporal or physical punishments do not have a positive or even at times effective benefits for children (Gershoff, 2010). Questions still persist regarding the need for physical punishment as a way to “shape” or “educate” our children and teach them right and wrong (Gershoff, 2010).

If physical punishment does not work… then why do some still use it? Research suggests… its due to TRADITION (Gershoff, 2010). In other words, we do it because our parents did it, their parents did it, and so on. We may have gotten spanked.. and well we turned out alright. I mean we did right? Well that is subjective :). Some however decide that they will never hit their children because their parents hit them and they did not like what it did to them log-term.

So why hit? What are we trying to accomplish?  Some suggest that there are both long-term and short-term goals of physical punishment (Gershoff, 2010).

Short term: To redirect behavior, to punish immediate bad behavior, or to get the child to comply or stop bad behavior

Long term: To reduce the occurrence of bad behavior in the future, to establish respect for authority, and to increase the likelihood of acting in socially acceptable ways.

Now that we know why some decide to use physical punishment, lets review what some research suggests. According to some research, using physical punishment is no better than using other forms of punishments or redirection such as time-outs. Children do not always learn the way we want them to learn, and while physical punishment may cause fear to a 2 year old, it may also cause frustration and confusion if they do not understand the motives (Gershoff, 2010). Corporal punishment may work for a while, but it may not work always or in all situations.

Lastly, Gershoff (2010) suggests that corporal punishment may actually increase the likelihood of future hostile behavior because we are teaching our children to resolve problems using physical force or verbal abuse. It may also affect our relationship with our children by increasing resentment or fear, and decreasing a sense of safety and trust (Gershoff, 2010).

We hit our children in order to teach them that violence is bad? Does that make sense? We spank our children to teach them to not disobey? Or do we spank to show authority? What ever our reason, we must also know the direct and long term causes. While I am not condemning parents for choosing this method of punishment, I do advise that we measure how well it is working and how our children are being shaped by it.

Lets get to the part of the blog, that maybe brought most of you here.. Time Outs

Everret et al. (2010) suggest that time-outs are used for a variety of problems associated with children’s behavior. They suggest that time-outs can be effective and safer for children long-term. It is often used as a behavior management technique that is taught to parents that are looking for alternatives to corporal punishment (Everrett et al., 2010). They do however suggest that time-outs should be accompanied by other techniques that improve the effectiveness of this method. They suggest that sitting your child or isolating your child for time-outs is not in itself as effective as grouping it with a parent-child conversation following the time-out (Everret et al., 2010). Time-outs may also be used with positive reinforcement, allowing the child to recognize when their behavior is good, and when it warrants time alone (Everret et al.,2010). They do however suggest that eliminating time-outs all together and simply doing positive reinforcements, verbal appraisals, or self-reflections may be more beneficial. Other suggestions regarding time-outs are as follows:

-Offering warnings before time-outs (“if you do not change your behavior, you will have to go on a time-out”).

-Providing a verbalized reason for the time-out (“you are getting a time-out because….”).

-Explanation of duration of time outs. Explain how long the time out will be.

– Having a designated physical space where the child goes when they are on “time-out”

Okay, okay, so research is suggesting time outs are better… but here is my take. This is what Elena Thinks.

I have a problem with the word “Time-out.” Yes I have a problem with the actual word. I believe the word “time-out” would be better if replaced by something more applicable to a growing child. Maybe by calling it “reflection time” or “cooling-off time” or “relax time,” or something that fits the behavior better. Sometimes kids need to just relax and cool off, while some situations warrant reflection. Time-outs are beneficial if done the right way!! Do not just sit your child in the corner and expect them to learn what they did was wrong. Don’t punish them without first allowing them to verbalize their feelings. Do not put them in solitary at 2 years old and expect them not to be sad or confused. Here are some tips that I agree with in some of the research I have read as well is in my experience.

• Allow the child the opportunity to explain what he/she thought the time-out was about. This can help the child make a better choice next time they are faced with the same situation.

• Instead of having a set time, judge each situation as unique. Sometimes the child may need just a minute, while other times they may need complete redirection.

• Maybe change the title “time-out” to something that fits your child better. Let them know that sometimes having time alone is actually very helpful and that if they ever need to disconnect from a situation and reflect, then they are allowed to.

• Give your child constant praise when their behavior is changed or has improved after the time-out.

• Do not get so caught up in doing it right… What works today may not work the next time. And what worked for one child may be totally wrong for another.

Life is a science… living is an art. In the same way.. parenting is beautiful, but it is not without its chaos.

Like always thank you guys for allowing me to bring you this information. Please like, or comment, or follow my blog for more postings. I will leave you with the two sources I used for this post. Thank you J


Everett, G., Hupp, S., & Olmi, D. (2010). Time-out with Parents: A Descriptive Analysis of 30 Years of Research. Education and Treatment of Children, 33(2), 235-259. Retrieved from

Gershoff, E. (2010). More harm than good: A summary of scientific research on the intended and unintended effects of corporal punishment on children. Law and Contemporary Problems, 73(2), 31-56. Retrieved from






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