Time-out Vs Spanking: Which Is The Lesser Of The Two Evils?

The twins were going through a bad patch a while ago. Tara had taken to biting Mrini at every opportunity, sometimes hard enough to scrape the skin off, or leave bite marks. This was very upsetting for Mrini, but even more upsetting for us. Amit, in particular, was worried that they might bite or otherwise be aggressive with other kids, the more so with school starting soon. I, on the other hand, believed that these honours were likely reserved specifically for each other. However, it was very upsetting to see Mrini running off in a loud flood of tears every so often. What could we do to put a stop to this?

I’m not one of the many modern moms who abhor spanking. I’m terribly short-tempered, and when the kids push me too far – which was quite often some months ago – I’m quite likely to haul off and give them one on their bottoms. With some restraint, of course. Mostly.

So, when Tara embarked on her reign of terror, my initial response was to explain to her sternly and with the aid of a few spanks that this was not on.

Before you throw the book at me, let me add that I’ve already read The Book and I can see the logic of not using violence to deliver a message of non-violence; but you can only do what you can do, and not giving them kids a shouting and a spanking from time to time when they are begging for it… It is just beyond me.

However, finally even I had to admit that it just wasn’t working. I was already trying the strategy of giving her more attention and affection whenever she wasn’t being hostile, but clearly that wasn’t enough either; there were just too few such opportunities.

So, prompted by Amit, I initiated time-out. I explained to the girls how it would work, and next time Tara attacked Mrini, I told her to go stand in a corner. She did so, howling all the while. I didn’t have the heart to keep her there long, and let her out soon enough.

Twins are frustrating; perhaps all sibling are. Mrini would forget all about their ill-will and want to go and talk to and play with Tara long before I had got over my own anger with her. So if Tara were in time-out, Mrini would hardly leave her to it.

In just one or two instances, both girls got the hang of it. Mrini, upon any perceived assault, would indicate that Tara should go to the corner, and even Tara knew when this punishment was impending. Luckily, I didn’t have to use it too often, because, whether due to this or other reasons, Tara eventually stopped her aggressive behaviour and grew more and more affectionate towards Mrini.

What I found in this entire episode is that – for me, time-out just doesn’t feel right. It feels cruel, a lot worse than a mild spank on the bottom. The latter causes a passing physical pain, but I fail to see how the former doesn’t cause a deeper psychological scar. I know that expert opinion tends towards time-out and that current wisdom is to view corporal punishment – of any kind – with shock, horror and disgust, but I don’t agree. There are obvious risks associated with corporal punishment – losing your perspective and going too far, hitting small children in an inappropriate manner, with excess force, causing lasting or permanent physical damage, even, in certain horrific cases, death. And for this reason, I would not be happy about schools allowing corporal punishment. But parents, I hope and believe, would generally be capable of exerting a modicum of restraint, except in very rare instances.

The dangers of the time-out system are much less apparent. Perhaps there aren’t any? But just think about it – treating a young child like an outcast so many times a day, or week? How can that not have a deeply negative impact on a delicate ego, on a sense of self-worth still in the process of being established? Would not a child frequently sent in to time-out begin to feel unloved, feel isolated, feel not worthy of being loved?

Physical scars can be seen, physical wounds, short of death, can be healed; but what of an ego torn to shreds; what of low self esteem that sets in at an age when the person is too young to even know what self-esteem means?

I suppose the experts know what they’re talking about. But for me, personally, time-out just seems wrong. I’m going to revert to spanking and shouting at my kids, or, now that they’ve grown up a bit, withholding treats and privileges, and I’m not going to use time-out if I can help it. After all, isn’t parenting also about deciding which experts to follow and which to ignore?


5 thoughts on “Time-out Vs Spanking: Which Is The Lesser Of The Two Evils?

  1. mrwhatsit

    Withholding treats and privileges sounds like a good strategy.

    Time outs, as long as they don’t last more than a few minutes (which is an eternity to a young child)…. Well, I can only judge from personal experience. The few times I was shut up in the bedroom for bad behavior (which must have been fairly ongoing, judging by the amount of punishment I received) didn’t seem to leave any psychological scars. Partly, I think, because I never had the sense that my mother had forgotten I existed; I knew that she knew I was waiting to get out – my cries of “let me out” probably helped – and that it was just a form of her attempting to exert her will over mine.I didn’t like it, I’m not sure that it had any effect, but I don’t think it left any scars. Spanking, however, often with the back of a hairbrush and usually accompanied with assurances that “this hurts me more than it hurts you,” left a distinct impression of being unloved, along with feelings of resentment and an almost palpable damage to my self-esteem.
    Perhaps my parents fell into the class of those who over-did it. Perhaps each child is different and responds differently to different forms of punishment. I can’t imagine that a smart swat on the behind would do much damage, and might do some good. Watch and see. Although in families I’ve observed that spanked a lot, it seemed to quickly lose it’s effectiveness. Perhaps as a last resort, and if done with restraint it might prove a point. Children must be taught somehow that there are consequences for their actions.
    All in all, I think it’s still an unresolved question. I’ve known adults that were never spanked by their parents and who matured into fine adults; on the other hand I’ve known some who thought they could get away with murder – almost as if their self-esteem was TOO high.
    In conclusion, that was an interesting blog and I really haven’t the slightest idea what the correct approach is to admonishing children. lol. I’d only say…..maybe go a little easy on the spanking. (Which it seems like you are.) It should probably be used only as last resort; and a little goes a long way.
    Oh, and as for yelling, kids learn to tune that out pretty quickly.
    Now that I think of it, some people have remarked that their parents would simple give them “THE LOOK” – which conveyed the message that THEY MEANT BUSINESS.

    In this conclusion’s conclusion, I think I would say: If I had ever had children, I like to think that I would have experimented with different methods, and eventually stuck to the ones which were most effective at changing behavior without negatively affecting self-esteem.
    Plus, I think that the older they get, the more responsive they are to reasonable explainations. When I was in my mid-teens my parents switched from a hair-brush to a canoe paddle. I really think I was ready for reasoned discussions by that point.

  2. poupee97 Post author


    Pasting part of my reply on the other blog here as well:

    Your hairbrush and canoe-paddle experiences sound horrific. I could never do that to my kids. I can’t even imagine that. And, like I said, I’m pretty impatient and can give them one on their bottoms pretty quickly… but hairbrush? Gosh, no way!

    You’re right, of course. Excessive punishment – of any kind – is never going to be effective, and is always going to have some kind of impact on the ego and sense of self-esteem. That will be so even with, say, always denying treats for every small misdemeanour; or yelling. So part of the solution is to just accept that kids will be kids and let them “get away” with things to whatever extent is acceptable.

    But it’s difficult to find the balance and to know what’s right.

    Another thought:

    When I was very young, a baby-sitter (maid, or ayah, as we call them) locked me into the bathroom as punishment. That terrified me. That’s one of my earliest memories, and though the terror has gone, the knowledge of the terror hasn’t. So that’s another thing I would never want to do to my kids, and for me, time-out is a watered-down version of that trauma. Which, I suppose, partly explains my aversion to time-out.

    My mother spanked me and shouted at me often enough so that I had a healthy fear of her; healthy, mind you, not unhealthy. I don’t think anyone ever used any weapon of any kind on me and my sister (until teachers at school used a ruler; but that’s just part of the system here) and the parental spankings didn’t have any noticeable effect on my self-esteem or my relationship with my parents.

    It takes all sorts, doesn’t it. The trouble is, knowing which sort to be.

  3. TealRose

    I am a 56 yr old grandmother – spanking killed my love, my respect and my trust for my parents stone dead from the first smack the first time. Hitting and love cannot belong in the same sentence. No .. the post spanking pep talk of ‘oh darling we love you’ meant nothing. They had hit me – I didn’t hit people – ergo they didn’t love me. I learned fear, pain, anger, hate and resentment. My parents NEVER regained any of it. They never ‘saw’ that I was being ‘damaged’ and never accepted it when I was an adult.

    I don’t understand, how hitting a child is supposed to be fine and useful – you can’t learn right from wrong in an atmosphere of fear. Discipline means to teach. Not to hit. If we aren’t allowed to hit an animal, or an adult, not even a hardened criminal in jail, then how can we be allowed or want to hit a defenceless child??

    You don’t lock a toddler or young child away from you either. You tell them how upset you are. You take them away from the problem. You sit with them in time out. I would NEVER lock a child anywhere, never leave them like that on their own as you don’t know what might be going on. They could be upset and choking, they could be doing something dangerous. They could be .. distraught.

  4. doug H

    I was first going to agree with the first comment until I looked at the name and found out that it was me who wrote it!

    But I also strongly agree with TealRose, who delved more deeply into the permanent psychological trauma that can result from spanking.
    Her emotional after-effects of being spanked pretty much mirror my own experience.


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