Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Time-Out with Parents: A Descriptive Analysis of 30 Years of Research

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Time-Out with Parents: A Descriptive Analysis of 30 Years of Research

Article excerpt


The current data-based review encompasses 30 years of research involving parental use of time-out (TO). Although extensively researched for decades, parental usage of TO continues to vary widely across a number of procedural variables. As such, the current review provides descriptive data for 40 articles published between 1977 and 2007 along both participant-related and TO procedural variables. Although results indicate wide parental usage of TO as a behavior management strategy, the application of specific procedural variables remains diverse and often unable to be ascertained. Based on current data, the review also includes specific practitioner recommendations and cautions in easily accessible bulleted form related to parental use of TO.


Following decades of research, time-out (TO) remains one of the most frequently employed behavioral interventions used to consequate childhood problem behavior. Defined as, "a period of time in a less reinforcing environment made contingent on a behavior" (Brantner & Doherty, 1983, p. 87), TO has been shown to be an effective treatment for a multitude of childhood problem behaviors, in a variety of settings, with those of varied functioning levels (Forehand, 1985; Harris, 1985). Considering all possible behavioral interventions, Reitman and Drabman (1996) referenced TO as the most effective procedure for parents of children with behavior problems. In addition, TO is both a frequent component of parent-training procedures (Eaves, Sheperis, Blanchard, Baylot, & Doggett, 2005) and an intervention with wide popular appeal (e.g., a Google[TM] search of "child time-out" returns in excess of 1.1 million results). Although such is the case, the procedural variables most responsible for effective TO implementation remain frequently misunderstood and underresearched.

As a behavior management technique, TO is often viewed as a component of larger parent-training programs differentially referred to as Parent Management Training (PMT; Kazdin, 2005), which include a progression from less intrusive interventions to more restrictive ones (e.g., Eyberg, 1988; McMahon & Forehand, 2005). As it is widely understood that parent behavior influences child behavior (e.g., the relationship between ineffective instructions and child noncompliance outlined by Richman et al., 2001), the goals of PMT involve teaching parents specific skills to improve the quality of parent-child interactions. As such, PMT models provide the framework for those conditions under which parents are frequently taught TO and are based on the foundational work of Hanf (1969) who proposed a two-stage model of parental skill training involving (a) differentially reinforcing (via the use of praise and ignoring) appropriate child behavior and (b) delivering effective commands/consequating inappropriate behavior via TO. More specifically, within PMT, interventions including verbal praise and effective instruction training usually precede TO. In this way, TO is often recommended when other interventions have proven ineffective in reducing inappropriate behavior.

Within this intervention progression, is the overarching issue of punishing child behavior. Punishment procedures (of which TO is most often viewed) are often employed as adjuncts to positive interventions (Cavell, 2001) when the later have evidenced insufficient clinical utility. Such is the stand of several professional associations which govern and outline the use of punishment in a variety of settings. For example, the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI; 1989) stipulates the use of punishment (i.e., restrictive) procedures be shown to be "necessary" and the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders (CCBD; 1990) requires the documented use of less restrictive procedures prior to more restrictive ones. Moving further along this hierarchy from least intrusive (most positive) to most intrusive (least positive) is the actual presentation of an aversive stimulus (Alberto & Troutman, 1990). …

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