Time out Toddler Memmories Cognition Punishment Parenting Psychology

Societal views on corporal punishment have slowly shifted from agreeable to unacceptable in the past century. As the field of psychology has refined itself, so have western cultures in disciplinary actions against children. “Time out” has become an ever growing popular alternative in the realm of negative reinforcement; but is it being used too much?

The answer is dependent on various factors. First, it is imperative to understand if time out is utilized correctly.  Time out is a punishment used as a consequence for a negative or undesirable behavior with the intent for  the child to form a cause and effect relationship with the negative behavior. Through repetition, the caregiver hopes to accomplish a result of the child fully grasping the idea that their behavior is intolerable. The ultimate goal is to mollify or eliminate the negative behavior.

 To answer the first question,”Is time out being used too much?”, it is crucial to  understand the following: cognition and memory in children, realizing how emotion and mood influences the cognitive process, and acknowledging  the substantial influence a caregiver’s parenting style contributes to the memory and behaviors of the child.

Without memory, punishing a toddler with “time out” would be fruitless. Thankfully, even newborns and infants have demonstrated great cognitive competence. Infants’ memory has been researched by using various methods. Two popular research approaches are recognizing mother, and conjugate reinforcement with a crib mobile. Researchers were astonished with the memory infants demonstrated on a number of tasks, such as: newborns recognizing their mothers’ face, six month olds remembering how to turn “on” a mobile,  and 14 month olds imitating actions they experienced three months prior.

Although intriguing and amazing, disciplining an infant would be unproductive due to delayed cognitive abilities. As children grow, however, so does their working memory (also known as memory span). The older the child grows, so does his or her ability to recognize. Recognition is easier for children than recall memory. For example, a two year old is likely to recognize 80% of pictures on a list, but only recall 20%. Recall is a memory task that involves having an individual replicate what they have learned. Without this memory task, any sort of reinforcement is ineffective. Having a weaker recall memory does not  conclude that time out is useless or overused.

There are three memory strategies that may help toddlers optimize recall memory. In order for “time out” to be effective, the child must have the ability to recall his or her bad behavior. The caregiver can use rehearsal as a strategy. This would involve a “make believe” session in which the child would go to time out. Rehearsing this scene repeatedly may trigger a spontaneous reaction where the child meta-cognates (think about thinking) before repeating bad behavior. Another strategy is called organizational strategies. This can be used by  grouping and categorizing good and bad behaviors with the child. Younger children are usually reluctant to organizational strategies. Imagery, however, is a very powerful strategy. Imagery, such as drawings and art, are proven to work on both working memory and long term memory.

Understanding the obstacles and successful strategies in the cognitive processes of children clears the way for another potential  barrier in memory. Cognitive psychologist suggest that moods and emotions impact memories. For example, the Pollyanna Principle confirms that enjoyable aspects are more efficiently and scrupulously processed than negative ones.  The important memory task “recall” is performed faster for pleasant stimuli, anger usually reduces memory accuracy, and unpleasant memories tend to fade faster. Although this information may seem to negate the effectiveness of “time out”, there is another principle to be aware of. Mood dependent memory suggests an individual has a greater ability to remember things if their mood is comparable to their mood when the material was first learned; The mood during encoding matches the mood during recall.

Last, parenting styles should be acknowledged when discerning  if “time out” is overused. Parents play a major role in the development of their children’s emotions, behaviors, and their overall psychological wellness. There are four types of parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive, Disengaged, and Authoritative. By the age of adolescence, the effects of these styles are evident. Those with authoritarian parents are usually described as passive, conforming, and less socially adept. Permissive parents are usually risky and irresponsible; they desire to be accepted and friends with their children. These children have a tendency to be impulsive and engage in drugs and alcohol. Disengaged parents risk their children to delinquency, addiction, and early sexual encounters.

Authoritative parents usually produce independent, creative, self-assured, and socially skilled children. The qualities of this parenting style are the following: high demandingness, high responsiveness, clear and consistent consequences, engage in conversation, and leave room to negotiate and compromise under few circumstances. These parents are empathetic, predictable, and trustworthy.

In conclusion, using “time out” as punishment will vary among parents and toddlers. A parent may be using “time out” five times a day if they, for example: initiate memory strategics to help young children “recall” by using imagery, deliver a message of punishment with a consistent promise and deliverance of reward for good behavior in order to dissuade the impact of negative moods on cognitive processes, and fit the profile of an authoritative parent. Punishment is a powerful tool-Concern should be focused in quality of punishment in lieu of quantity.

Arnett, J.J  (2007). Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A cultural approach
Derlega, V., Winstead B., Jones, W (2005) Personality: Contemporary Theory and Research Matlin, M. (2005) Cognition