Guest Blog by Camilla from ‘Keeping Your Cool Parenting’: Why Timeouts And The Naughty Step Don’t Work And What To Do Instead

Do you feel like you’re forever losing your cool? You’re stuck in a negative cycle of shouting and dragging your child to the naughty step and yet your child doesn’t change his behaviour? or maybe it ‘works’ in the moment, but the unwanted behaviour soon returns.Maybe you feel like giving up, as whatever you do, you still can’t get through to him.Maybe you’re fed up feeling like they don’t respect you or take you seriously or you have that nagging feeling that timeouts aren’t really working. 

Truthfully. it leaves you feeling like a terrible parent and you can’t seem to break the cycle. However hard you try.

What if I told you, I know how that feels, and chances are you’ve been looking in all the wrong places to make the changes you want.

What if you could change just ONE thing and begin to see improved behaviour, and a more harmonious family life?

Keep reading, because THIS is what you’ve been looking for.

BUT FIRST…Let’s start here. Deep breath:

“Timeouts actually cause more of your child’s unwanted behaviour.”

They may seem to ‘work’ in the moment. But we want more than ‘work’ in the moment. When you look beneath the surface it turns out timeouts, naughty step – call it what you will,  don’t ‘work’ in the way we think they do, or for the long-term benefits for our child.

I have a vivid memory of dragging my daughter kicking and screaming out of a supermarket, with me fuming all the way home and dragging her to sit in a timeout whilst listening to her cries of protest.

“She has to learn that her behaviour is unacceptable.” was how I had justified my reactions.

But, it turns out that children don’t learn by sitting in a time out, by having their phones, screens or favourite toys taken away or forced to miss out on a playdate.

Would we put our child on the naughty step when they misspell a word in their spelling test or fall off their bike? Would time alone teach them the skills they need to do better next time? Would we deem this a great way to teach them better choices next time? I don’t think so. So, why do we think it ‘works’ to change behaviour? Behaviour is a learnt skill too.

No child is sitting in a timeout thinking of their wrongdoings.

“Gee Mummy! Thank you so much for putting me in a timeout, I really need time to reflect on my behaviour and how much I need to change my ways, you’re so right! I was so mean/selfish/annoying, and I shouldn’t have shouted and I should have stopped what I was doing and listened to you.” Said NO child ever!

Your child is sitting there ANGRY. AT. YOU.

So, instead of your child focusing on their wrongdoings, or what they can do differently next time, their WHOLE focus is on;

  • How mean you are.
  • How they won’t get caught next time.
  • How they must be a terrible person.
  • How mistakes are bad.
  • How when I’m feeling overwhelmed or upset people don’t want to be with me.
  • How they can get back at you next time.
  • How you don’t understand them and won’t try to see the good in them.
  • How if someone doesn’t do what you like, you make them suffer to teach them a lesson.

No surprise that those thoughts and beliefs would push your child into acting out even more and into more of the behaviour you DON’T like.

It’s a normal human reaction isn’t it?  How would you react to being put in a timeout?

As part of your child’s struggle to be heard and understood, children act out by using the only way they know how… they learn from their parents to shout, fight, bicker, bully, punish and hold their ground.

And don’t we deem these children to be the naughty ones and punish them even more?!

Do you want more examples of just what to say to gain willing cooperation? Check out my free download workbook. I’ll take you from wild kids to listeners’ in a few days. Click here to sign up

And so, this is one of the cycles we get in.

As parents, we tend to focus on “on the surface” behaviour, on the symptom of what’s going on.

Imagine you have a cut that needs stitches and you cover the cut with a bandage. On the surface you can’t see the cut, but it ‘looks’ better. However, you keep having to tend your wound, it takes time to keep changing the bandage and you notice the cut is getting worse, it’s getting infected and the poison is tracking further up your arm.

That’s the same with using timeouts and other forms of punishments. On the surface they might seem like they are working. But underneath there is a child crying-out to feel heard and understood. This leaves the root of what’s really going unnoticed.

And slowly we erode our relationship and influence over our child. They stop caring about what we want. From this place of disconnection, it’s very difficult to guide them to better behaviour. They are defensive and angry at you and they don’t want to learn from your guidance.

So often we fall into the trap of waiting for our child to change their behaviour, so that we won’t have to punish them.

But I believe that we’ve got it all back to front.

As the parent we need to change OUR ways first. Our child’s behaviour is a reaction to ours; We need to be the one to break the cycle.

I used to think, if only my daughter would listen, I wouldn’t have to shout!.  I’m sure that if she could articulate her thoughts she would have said “If only my Mum wouldn’t shout at me then I would listen to her.  But I’m not listening to a MEAN Mum!”

What to do to get the behaviour you want and still stay connected.

That’s the power of Language of Listening® It helps you see with ‘new eyes’ and you’ll start to see your child’s behaviour change just like magic.

The magic of Say What You See® is that it gets you out of your head, where we tend to live in judgment and smack bang into the moment of what is happening.

We are so used to seeing through a lens of good and bad. Naughty or nice. Good choices or bad choices. But behaviour isn’t like that.

Behaviour doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s an action, a reaction, an expression of emotion. When we see it like this, we get to see that behaviour is a communication, a way to get our needs met.

What can I do instead of timeouts?

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Jonny, a 3-year-old is busy playing, he sees a toy his brother was playing with and grabs it.

What did you see in this scene? Because what you ‘see’ affects how you respond and in turn the behaviour you get more of in the future. 

If you see a mean boy who knows grabbing is naughty, you might want to punish him to teach him to be kind.  You may say something like: “You know grabbing is naughty! You wouldn’t want someone to do that to you would you?! I’ve already told you! If your brother is playing with a toy, you don’t grab! That’s not kind. Now go and sit on the naughty spot and you think about what you did!”

Or if you ‘see’ a kind boy who just wanted a toy his brother was playing with, seeing without judgment while understanding that kids are impulsive and are in the moment. You’re son isn’t not kind, he’s just wants a toy and found a solution to get it, just not in a way you like.

Your reply would be more like: “Jonny, you wanted that toy, and it looks like Sammy hadn’t finished playing with it. Hmmm. Two boys and one toy! I wonder what you CAN DO?”

Now, you may have to step in to guide your children to find solutions. And because you have not used shame, blame, or criticisism your child is now receptive to your guidance.

And then when he’s found a solution you get to point out his STRENGTH “You know! You found a way to make it work, you’re problem solver!”

I wonder what message Jonny takes away from each situation. What would better guide him to the behaviour you want to see next time, and what decisions will Jonny base his future actions on?

“I better not grab toys because I fear what might happen if I do.”


“When I want to play with a toy my brother’s playing with, I know what to do, I’m a problem solver.”

What are alternatives to using punishment to change a behavior?

Let’s look at an example for an older child.

Jake, a 13-year-old is using his phone in his bedroom, well after the time he knows he should be. You walk in to find him trying to hide it under his pillow.

What did you see in this scene? Because what you ‘see’ affects how you respond and the behaviour you get more of in the future.

If you see a child who should know better, that’s pushing your boundaries and lying to you.   You may say something like: “What do you think you’re doing! You know better than that! How many times have I told you? That’s so disrespectful of you. That’s it! I can’t trust you. No phone for a week. That should make you think.”

Or if ‘see’ a boy who is struggling, he knows your boundaries and at the same time doesn’t want to miss out on a friends group chat. You know that you too find it hard to come off your own phone.

Your reply would be more like: “Jake, it’s hard when all your friends are chatting after lights out, I know you don’t want to miss out. AND no phones in the bedroom after 8.30. there must be something you CAN DO to keep in touch and be off your phone before 8.30. I know the pull of the phone is so tempting.” And wait for your child to self-correct his own behaviour.

Chances are, as you’ve not blamed or criticised him. He will reply, “Sorry mummy! Here.” And he will hand over his phone willingly.

You then get a wonderful opportunity to point out his STRENGTHs. “That took self-control and honesty.”

I wonder what message Jake takes away from each situation. What would better guide him to the behaviour you want to see next time, and what decisions will Jake base his future actions on?

Mum doesn’t understand, she’s so mean, I’m just going to sneak it next time.


Mum understands, it’s hard to come off your phone, she’s there to support me.

You see, in both examples above, the boundary DIDN’T change.

Using Language of Listening® coaching tools, you can have your boundaries, in fact, you can have exactly the SAME boundaries and support your child to meet them. AND you’ll have a strong, connected relationship that includes respectful behaviour and healthy boundaries.

By Camilla from Keeping Your Cool Parenting




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