The Naughty Chair is Exile for Little People!

Comments 7

Time outs and naughty chairs have become standard fare for parents who often feel at a loss for how to change the unacceptable behavior of their children, even with the youngest of children. The practice of using time outs originated in an attempt to stop using physical punishment on children in order to gain cooperation. As a disciplinary tool parents will send their “misbehaving” child to their room, or some creatively named chair, with the intention of making the child sit and think about what they have just done.

However, most children will not easily go and sit quietly in a chair to ponder the choices they have made, and come out with new and improved behavior. This can be seen time and time again on Super Nanny, when the Nanny or the desperate parents have to repeatedly, physically move the child to the “Naughty Chair”, until eventually the child has been broken like a misbehaving animal, and sits, usually crying, until the adult says they can get up. Is this what we really want for our children? To break them like an animal?

This parenting practice, in fact, can backfire all together, and the actual enforcement of isolation can create an issue all its own. When children are isolated they feel shame, guilt, unloved, unappreciated, and misunderstood. They can become discouraged and begin to act out in other ways. Many children decide to get even, harbor resentment, rebel, or distrust adults all together. The time out has not built self-confidence, impulse control or better ways of coping or behaving.

Time outs come from an authoritarian parenting style, the traditional power over model of parenting, rather than an authoritative parenting style that is demanding and equally responsive to children. What is most effective when children are acting out is the love and support of adults who take time to teach and guide the child’s behavior with kindness, dignity and respect.

Children are constantly learning. It has often been said that they are like sponges. Therefore, they can be taught how to act in a ways that are acceptable without being punished. People often ask how to encourage proper behavior if we don’t punish. My answer, take time for training. Tell them what is expected. Show them how to behave. Set them up, prior to a situation, for success. Recognize and acknowledge when children are behaving in appropriate and acceptable ways, and when they are cooperating.

Very young children need constant supervision, redirection, and training to understand their world—not punishment. It is important to understand that young children are developing their sense of autonomy and initiative. It is helpful for parents to get into the shoes of their child and look at the behavior from a place of curiosity and wonder. Parents can actually ask themselves, “What does my developing child need right now?”

I remember when my girls were very young, and we went to visit my mom and her beautiful collection of crystal figurines that were so artfully displayed on a coffee table, right at toddler level! Many grandparents would move the glass menagerie if their grandchildren were visiting, but not my mom. Therefore, the only alternative was to teach my girls that these shiny, miniature objects were not for our touching, but rather simply to look at. So we did just that. We looked with them; we showed them where they could put their hands on the table; we used language to develop their understanding with such words as delicate and breakable, and most importantly that they were Grandma’s very special things and not toys for us. This took time, and lots of patience on our part. As parents and grandparents, we modeled the behavior we wanted to see from our children. I am pleased to tell you that they never did touch Grandma’s “decilate” crystals!

There are times when parents become frustrated with their children, the fuse is short and everyone needs a break. Take the break, but take it with your child, rather than forcing them into exile. Have five minutes of quiet time on the couch without saying a word. After everyone has calmed down you can talk to your child about their behavior and take advantage of the teachable moment to teach rather than to punish. Handling tough parenting situations in a positive non-punitive manner will make parenting much more enjoyable, and your children will be encouraged to behave in appropriate ways because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone bigger than them has exiled them to the “Naughty chair.”

Categories ,


  1. Susan Sinjur

    as usual, a reminder I desperately needed! Thanks!
  2. Nakeya

    Thanks for sharing the information. I\'m going to have to respectfully disagree. Time outs are not for every situation but are useful and necessary in some circumstances with toddler children. The example that you gave would not be a situation that would require a time out. Thats is exactly what would do teach them about fragile things but when my daughter is harming her brother she needs a consequence and at 2yearsold there is no taking things away. My children are respected and built up daily and i dont think sitting down for 1 minute to re group changes any of that. Children need boundaries with love. l love being my kids mom!
  3. Coach Marni

    Nakeya, Thank you for taking the time to comment. You are exactly right--taking time to regroup and being removed from your sibling because you are hurting them, by an adult who is patient, kind and respectful, is very different than the punitive form of timeout that I write about. I think when people hear that I\'m against timeout they aren\'t hearing that I do condone removing a child or redirecting a child from certain situations. In fact, with toddlers, redirection and removal is often the best form of discipline. I also believe that when children are having a tantrum that it\'s a good time to let them regroup and calm down before trying to solve the situation.

    Punitive time-outs are more often than not enforced out of frustration and anger from the parent. They\'ve had it and they don\'t know what else to do but threaten the Naughty Chair or have power over the child and force them there. Even the term \"Naughty Chair\" insinuates that the child has done something shameful or wrong that they are being punished for. Why not call it the \"Regroup Chair\" which insinuates that you get to go there and calm down or take a break when you need it? We all need opportunities to walk away now and then.

    Tone of voice is also important. Being kind and firm without yelling, or piggy backing with labeling and shaming of the child\'s behavior is necessary for the adult/child relationship. The situation I gave is similar to those that I often hear about parents giving time-outs. They tell the children, \"Don\'t touch Grandma\'s crystals\", and what happens ten minutes later? The child has to touch because they lack impulse control, and the parent gets angry and says, \"I told you not to do that, you need a time out!\" I see this and hear this all too often. Or worse yet, the threat of a timeout, without follow through.

    In the last episode of Super Nanny there was a little girl who was really getting upset when her daddy would leave. The solution to stop this little girl from wanting her daddy? Timeout. There was not a single adult who took that little girl in their arms, validated and empathized with her about how hard it is to say good by to someone you love and worked on alternatives to chasing daddy. The timeout was not given as an opportunity for this little girl to regroup, but rather a punishment and training that it\'s not okay to want daddy. This child had to be taken back over and over again to that chair and was physically forced to sit there.

    I am so glad you are setting kind and firm boundaries with your kids. That is exactly what they need. They are very fortunate to have a mom who loves and respects them and who isn\'t using timeout as a threat or form of punishment. Thanks again, Nakeya, for your comments!

    Wishing you lots of joy,
  4. Alice Hanscam

    I spent some time thinking about how I handled my girls (now 17 and 20) and I can honestly say I never once used a time out. Never made sense to me. Like you, I walked my girls through things, helping them learn, removing them or an item when necessary, sitting with them as they calmed down, etc. Time outs never made sense to me because they taught nothing...unless it was used as \"taking a break\" then it was a shared moment. Also, I realize because I put so much into guiding my girls, time outs/punishment was rarely if ever necessary. I think you totally know what I mean...
  5. Coach Marni

    Thanks, Alice, for your comment. It is so wonderful to hear from someone who is on the other side of those trying early years of parenting. You give hope to so many!
  6. Szilvia Campbell

    Marni, when is media going to recognize that THEY NEED COACH MARNI instead of airing super-nanny and such? i\'m really hoping that these times will come! people need to hear your loving and wise voice!! with love, Szilvia
  7. Coach Marni

    Szilvia, I am humbled by your encouragement! I would love nothing more than to have that job.

Commenting has expired for this article.