The GBD Alternative to Traditional Time-Outs

Punitive parenting is adversarial. It pits parents against children in what many punitive experts openly refer to as a war. Even Dr. Phil talks about “picking your battles” and warns parents that when you pick them you had better make sure that you “win” them. But as Christians we are told that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this present darkness. We are told that Satan is “The Adversary”, not our children. In fact, our children are in the position of being our brothers and sisters in Christ. The “rod”, the “Shebet”, is properly used when it’s used to beat off the adversary–the wolf attacking the sheep and the devil attacking our children. It’s not for hitting sheep or children.

But why not time outs?

It’s actually a good question when the AAP has advocated for Time Outs as a preferred alternative to corporal punishment. In truth, if the choice is between a spanking and a time out, I’d suggest the time out. But that’s not the only choice! Both are rooted in a punitive mindset.

 People who feel good act good while people who feel bad act bad.

A punishment is something that is added on to teaching to cause the child to feel bad with the underlying belief that only by feeling bad can they learn. But, in fact, they learn lots of things without feeling bad. They learn to walk and talk and spell their own name without requiring punishment, so the argument that they can’t learn if they don’t feel bad is completely unfounded.

In fact, a basic belief in GBD and PD is that people who feel good act good while people who feel bad act bad. So when a child is acting bad it is illogical to think that making them feel worse will somehow get them to act better.

Of course I’m speaking of classic time outs here. Or, thanks to Supernanny, what is sometimes referred to as a “naughty place.” The way this works is that a child is separated from the family and ignored for a time that is equal to 1 minute per age of the child. The child is told that they are bad/naughty/misbehaving/etc and the parent will get them when the time is up. They are instructed to “think about” what they have done wrong. Supernanny insists on an apology at the end .

There are several punitive aspects to this.

While Supernanny allows for young children to be viewable by the family, traditional time outs, and her Naughty Room for older children, require that the child be isolated away from the family during the time out. This gives the clear message to a child that acceptance in the family is conditional upon their behavior. If it is not acceptable they are rejected; if it is acceptable, they are accepted. For many children this translates into a message of conditional love. Also, while introverted children may respond okay to forced isolation, for many extroverted children this is traumatic.

The one-minute-per year is an arbitrary time. There is no guarantee that a child will be calmed down in that time, and other children will calm down long before that time is over.

A time-out gives the clear message to a child that acceptance in the family is conditional upon their behavior.

When an apology is required to leave the time out or naughty place this is a forced apology and not a true indicator of a child’s remorse. They are taught that an apology is a negotiating tool and not taught empathy or remorse.

In place of classic time outs, there are many GBD tools that provide actual teaching and do not have the punitive aspects.

GBD is an entire paradigm shift. Children are not viewed as “naughty.” Parents and children aren’t in battles that must be won.

Since people who feel good act good, one goal of GBD is to help people feel good. Now, happy isn’t the only acceptable emotion, and there’s lots of opportunity to use tools like reflecting feelings. The way that people learn how to feel good is to be equipped with tools that they can use to exercise self control in difficult situations. Taking a break, or what is sometimes referred to as a “Positive time out” is one way to do that.

As a means for providing this, I recommend a Comfort Corner.

A Comfort Corner is a space in the common area of a home that is set up to be a retreat for a child (or an adult). It’s a place they can go to step out of a situation, take a break, regroup. There are things there that provide them with comfort–stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, music, books, whatever will bless your child. Let them help design it if you want. It can be as simple as a chair with a blanket, or as complex as a room under the stairs full of options.

Some will argue that this is rewarding poor behavior, but if you aren’t actively slapping high-fives and saying “awesome” about their poor behavior then you aren’t rewarding or encouraging it. I’ve never thanked my child for yelling or said that if they did I’d give them ice cream.

One illustration relevant to adults is this one.  If I were to come over and you had been having a bad day and not behaving well (maybe grousing or yelling at the kids, not doing your responsibilities around the house, etc) which of the following ways would you prefer me to respond?

1) “I’m disgusted at the way you’ve been behaving today. Your children deserve better than this. What kind of a mother do you think you are? You need to go into your room for 30 minutes (1 minute per year ) and really think about how bad you are. I will come and get you in 1/2 hour and then I will be nice to you.”


2) “Wow, you’re having a bad day. How about I watch the kids for a bit and you go get a cup of coffee and take a break? Come back when you’re feeling better and if you want to talk about what’s going on we can do it then.”

When a child is sent to the Comfort Corner the only rule is that you don’t talk about why they were sent when they are there, and they may come out when they are ready to rejoin the family and be cooperative.

For older children there may be a need for a tool called “you hit, you sit”. When children get aggressive and violent it’s appropriate to stop their bodies and give them a chance to get their brain back in control. If you have a Comfort Corner they can be sent there, or even just sitting on the couch until they are ready to be calm in their play and make amends.

I do teach children how to apologize, including the words “I’m sorry”, but more importantly the words, “Will you forgive me?” And I teach all of my children how to forgive — because forgiveness is about casting off the burden of unforgiveness and going on with your life at peace with others. When you wrong someone you owe them a debt. Making amends is about taking responsibility and doing what you can to pay that debt. We can never undo our actions, but making an effort to repay the debt we owe someone teaches personal responsibility for our actions and is much more important than the ability to say an empty “I’m sorry.”

Saying “I’m sorry” might be part of making amends. There may also be a need to offer a gentle touch to make amends for a violent one, to return a toy and offer an additional one where a toy was taken, to do a kind act where unkindness was done. I have the offending child ask the offended child what kind thing they can do to help them feel better.

GBD is about working to proactively prevent the situations that would result in time outs.

Mostly, GBD is about working to proactively prevent the situations that would result in time outs. Knowing our children well enough allows us to structure situations to set them up for success. Using the 5 Steps makes instructions non-optional and has built in “help” if the child is not able to accomplish something themselves. Ultimately, rather than an adversarial relationship, GBD equips parents to be the coaches on the family team. There may be a time during a sporting event where someone is pulled off the field to take a Positive Time Out, or have a break, regain their cool and get ready to go back on the field. Something is very broken on the team when someone is thrown from the game in a negative time out.

When you view your family as a team it’s much easier to see that when one person fails, we all fail, but when one person succeeds, we all succeed. Success for all is the goal.

Foreword by Dr. William Sears

Foreword to Biblical Parenting:

Christian parents have been accustomed to thinking about discipline as punishment – something you do to a child rather than something you do with a child. However, discipline is more about developing the right relationship with your child rather than the right techniques. Throughout this book you will learn how the “rod verses” are grossly misinterpreted, and that you don’t have to spank your child to be a godly parent. Besides there being no biblical basis for spanking, in my thirty years in pediatric practice I have rarely seen spanking work. Instead, it creates a distance between parent and child, plants a seed of anger (and sometimes violence) in the child, and often tends to worsen a child’s behavior. It is also interesting that the “rod verses” are only mentioned in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Christ taught a gentler approach, as stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:21:  “Shall I come to you with the rod, or in love and with a gentle spirit?”

Throughout this book you will learn that discipline is creating an attitude within the child and an atmosphere in the home that makes spanking unnecessary. Scripture is clear that parents are to be authority figures for their children. Yet, authority begins with developing a mutual trust between parent and child:  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart.”  (Proverbs 22:6)  This implies that parents know the individual bent of their child. To teach your child to trust you, and to become an expert in your child, begins with practicing a style of parenting we call attachment parenting.  Throughout this book you will learn how this style of parenting helps you get behind the eyes of your child and direct behavior from within rather than applying force on the outside.  Attachment parenting will help you teach your child how to develop inner controls.  You will also learn that attachment parenting does not mean permissive parenting. On the contrary, one of the “B’s” (in addition to the other B’s of birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, belief in baby’s cries, and bedding close to baby) is balance – knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”  Attachment parenting implies a balance between meeting the child’s needs and also saving enough energy to meet the needs of your marriage.  Finally, it is my hope that in reading this book parents will discover the true joy of living with a well-disciplined child.

–Dr. William Sears, author of The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Childcare

How to address the issue of sin with children

First of all, I think there are two issues that are important to distinguish between when it comes to sin:

1. The impact of sin in the world and in our lives.  Jesus took care of this 100% and I always point my children towards Jesus as the only answer to their problem of sin (even though I don’t explain all of that to them too young)

2. The impact of actual sin actions which are damaging to ourselves and others and things that I *can* teach my children how to avoid. I keep my focus on what God gave me to do–introduce them to Him and teach them how to live.

I focus them always on what TO do. I do not talk about their actions as being sin. That leads to shame and is a heavy burden to put on a young child. I talk about what sin is–I start from the beginning with

 God tells us to live this way . . . . God says He wants us to . . . God designed our bodies to . . . .

At preschool ages, they ask spontaneously about what happens if they don’t live that way. My initial answer is that God says His children WILL live that way and those who don’t live that way aren’t his children. Everything is relationship focused and we talk about being children of God. Keep in mind, this is going on while teaching both factual sides of things AND making sure that they are, as much as possible, only able to do what is right.

They never have the choice to not do what I say and get punished–they are always going to do what I say and life may come to a screeching halt or go on parallel to them until that happens depending on the child and the issue, but they will do what was stated would be done. There isn’t another option.

I work to avoid the word “sin” in relation to what they are doing and instead focus on “what God wants us to do” and “God says we’re not to do that”, because “sin” is a more mature concept and a word that doesn’t have inherent meaning.  In this way, I’m giving them the understanding before I give them a name for it.

I’ve heard many people say they understood that sin is disobeying by the time they were 4, but this isn’t what sin means. This further emphasizes to me the importance of not introducing the word too early or without securely rooting it in a proper definition.

The age of eight is when pre-logic kicks in and it’s the first time that they start to really understand cause and effect in advance. With each child there has been something that was chosen intentionally.

This is obvious because their reaction to being caught reveals extreme guilt and embarrassment that, if I responded wrongly, would become shame and haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Instead of that response, I address it this way.

  • After praying, each time I have taken them aside and reminded them that we’ve talked about different things not being what God wants us to do, that they aren’t for His children to do.

  • I explain that what God says He wants in the lives of His children is like a target in front of us.  God asks parents to fly their children straight to the target and the target is Jesus.

  • “Sin” is a word that means “missing the mark”. So Jesus is the target and when you sin you aren’t flying straight.

  • I then explain to them that what they are feeling right now is guilt and embarrassment–and that feels bad, but it’s a good thing. It is what God gave them to help them know if they aren’t flying straight–if they are sinning. The only way to feel better is to acknowledge that what you’ve done goes against what God says to do, apologize to God and thank Him that He has already forgiven you and loves you, and then make amends to whoever you have wronged AND not do it anymore.

  • I explain that sin makes your heart feel dark and dirty and like you’ve covered Jesus’ light–but repentance (or turning around and flying straight to the target again) cleans up your heart and lets the light of Jesus shine bright again.

  • I then encourage them to pray and apologize to God, and thank Him for having already done so (because I believe that was 100% accomplished at the cross) and then we talk about everyone they wronged with their actions–me and/or daddy, whoever else was involved, etc.

  • Then we practice the script for how to go and apologize (a skill we’ve been working on since infancy but we practice how to apologize for this specific thing) and then I go with them while they make their own amends.  For the first time, I’m not going to help them do it if they get embarrassed or stuck. They take full responsibility for what they did.

This has been a HUGE turning point in each of my older children’s lives and understanding. It’s impacted them in such a deep and meaningful and non-shame based way. I believe they develop a healthy understanding of how sin works, what happens when we give in to our lusts of the flesh, the importance of flying straight and doing what God says His children will do–and because it’s for our own good, not some legalistic idea of being worthy or earning God.

My oldest is now 13 and my second oldest is right behind him at 11 and they are reflecting a very mature understanding of the importance of flying straight, making choices that are Godly, and living lives today that will take them on the path to where they want to be tomorrow.

I am confident that approaching the problem of sin this way has set them up for success and served to fly them straight—and created an opportunity to dialogue with them should they begin to veer off the path.