[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]  

There are far worse discipline tactics than time-outs, but I think that there are some alternatives that can be better in certain situations.  Few children actually use their time-out time to reflect or calm down; in fact, it can even cause them to get more upset, depending on the child.  I prefer some other approaches that require my kids to get more practice using the problem-solving, empathetic, choice-making part of their brains:

  • A “re-do.”  One way I do this is by saying “Stop, please.  Now go out of the room and then come back in and ask me the right way,” or, “I’m going to take that toy, and save it for you when you’re ready to play with it nicely.  Just let me know when you are ready.”  Sometimes I even say, “I know you know how to do this the right way.  I’m going to give you a do-over.”  Not only does this approach address what your child has done wrong, it (more importantly) gives them practice at doing something right.
  • Ask questions about intent.  Sometimes misbehavior occurs when a child is trying to make something happen, and goes about it poorly.  By asking “Is that what you meant to happen?” or “What could you do differently next time?” you can get at motives and intent.  For example, if your child really wants another child to play with them, and the other child is not interested, your child might grab the other child’s shirt to make them play.  This would be a good time to ask these questions and talk with your child.
  • Encourage them to repair the situation:  Ask, “How can you make it right?” or “How can you show your sister that you’re really sorry?” or “How can you help your friend feel better?” This gives them practice at thinking about how their actions affect others, and how to begin to think about how other people feel.
  • Ask them to help you solve the problem:  “I’m not sure that taking the car out of his hand is the best thing to do.  But how we are going to solve this?  You want to play with the car, and your friend wants to play with the car. . . hmmm.  Do you have any ideas?”  This gives them problem-solving practice, as well as giving them a little choice, instead of hearing “Share!”  commanded all the time.
  • For older kids,  earning privileges for good behavior works really well as well (like a family walk, getting to choose what’s for dinner, getting to choose where they sit at the table, getting a game time or longer reading time with a parent, or other things that are important to them).

Clear and consistent boundaries are, of course, very important when it comes to good parenting.  The question is how to most effectively set and communicate those boundaries.  I’m not saying not to use time-outs.  But I do think that lots of time (and possibly even most of the time), we can find more productive and effective ways to respond to our kids’ misbehavior.

[Update:  I've spelled out some of my main reasons for not being a fan of time-outs here.]