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The Poonish Man

One day when I picked Julian up from preschool, he was grinning from ear to ear and in a great mood. When we got into the car, he couldn't wait to tell me about his day: "In Spanish class, I got to be the Poonish Man", he said.  "The Poonish Man?", I asked. "Yes" he said, "I got to be the Poonish Man." In his homeroom class, they take turns being the Helper of the Day, and helping the teacher with various tasks over the course of the day and I thought maybe this was something similar in Spanish class. "What is the Poonish Man?", I asked. "During circle time, the teacher said that I could sit on the big blue chair instead of on the floor. He said I was the Poonish Man."

At that point, I got it (and I'm sure you have too!).

I'm not a big fan of time outs (or other punishments) as a discipline tool. I have had to remove a child from a situation when things are getting out of control. But when I do, it isn't a sit-there-and-don't-move-for-five-minutes kind of time out. Rather, it is about:

  • reigning things in

  • reestablishing calm

  • finishing what the child was disrupting, cleaning up (if dangerous - e.g. broken glass), or tending to the hurt child (as the case may be)

  • talking about things (to understand why it happened and to discuss why it should be avoided in the future).

There isn't a special mat. There isn't a timer. There isn't a prescribed amount of time.

I think what traditional time-outs teach children, more than anything else, is that you can do whatever you want if you are willing to sit still for five minutes afterward. So go ahead and draw on the wall with markers, throw rocks at your brother, jump on the couch, or flush trains down the toilet. Just make sure that whatever mischief you want to get into is worth the punishment that you know is coming (because, of course, consistency is key when doling out time-outs).  Or, in the case of some children, time outs teach you that acting up in Spanish class means that you get the privilege of sitting on the really special chair.

But that is an aside and not the point of this post.

What I wanted to do was to point out some of the ridiculous products that have come to my attention lately on-line or in stores to support time outs. Rather than sitting with your child, talking to them, and assessing their readiness to continue calmly with their day, you can purchase a nifty little item that they have to stay on and that will alert them when they are free to go.

First, there is the time out pad with a built in traffic light. If it is red, stay put. If it is green, you are free to go. Presumably the parent sets a timer and the child sits on the mat until the punishment is over. This one is probably your typical at-home time out tool.

But what happens if you need to discipline on the go? No worries. You can buy a time out spot that you can shove in your purse and carry with you anywhere. It has apparently won all sorts of awards and been recommended by a bunch of celebrities.  Oh, and it looks like a lot of people who bought this time-out mat on Amazon also bought at nifty traffic light timer to go with it. A little bulky for my purse, but maybe other moms carry a bigger purse with them.

Whether your child feels humiliated (as most probably would) or special (as my son did in Spanish class) by having to sit on the designated time out spot, is it really doing the job?

Parenting in general and discipline specifically are not easy a lot of days. Personally, when things are going awry for me and the kids, I look for opportunities to reconnect, I ensure they are getting enough of their Omega 3s, and I re-read Playful Parenting. I don't think that products are the solution to discipline problems. I think parenting is.

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Reader Comments (32)

*sigh* Yet more gadgets that promote detachment from actually interacting with our kids...

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Moquin

I think those products are ridiculous. I do use time out though, but I also sit down with my daughter and explain to her what she did why she's in trouble and why she shouldn't do it again.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

I think parents who don't believe in discipline are doing a huge disservice to their kids. Kids need guidance and they need a fear of consequences to give them motivation to be good. Talking things through with a toddler who likes to throw things at ppl's face is never going to correct the behavior. Lack of parenting is what I call it and it is what's wrong with the youth today. Kids cuss their teachers because they know the principal can't paddle them. Nothing is going to happen so they do what they want to. That's how you come across all these ppl who have raging brats for kids and nobody wants to be around them because they act like undisciplined wild children. It's a joke if youo ask me. Treating a 2 year old like a grown up is ridiculous.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Brister

Agree completely. A family friend gave us a present when my son was a baby. It was a stuffed bunny with a timer on its belly. It was called "Time Out Bunny" or somesuch. The only thought that came to mind was: what a mean present!

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEilat

That is pretty funny that Julian was so excited about the time-out. Clearly, it didn't do what it was intended, though, so it seems like a pretty pointless exercise.

We were on vacation last week, and coming home on the ferry my 5-year-old was playing in the playroom with another little girl. They were running around and doing little kid things, with the other kids in the playroom, in a way that I assessed to be suitable to the space. But the other little girl's mom didn't want her running, so she kept giving her time-outs. She had a little egg timer and the girl had to sit in a specific spot until it ran out. We had to leave because it became a cycle of my daughter saying, "Hey, let's play!" and the girls eventually chasing each other and the other little girl having to sit in time-out. I couldn't take it after the third time, watching my kid instigate the play and the other kid getting punished, so we had to leave the playroom. It felt as if I was the one being punished, honestly.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I am ashamed at what this society is becoming in an effort to become more technologically advanced. We have turned into robotic-parenting...it really is a shame. Thanks! Nice post

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlessing

Surely these items are novelties? Not real things that people spend money on and actually use with real children? Right? Right?!


We don't do time outs, but I've come around to thinking they are not the root of all evil and may be helpful in some situations with some children. I still don't think they "teach" anything on their own, especially as some parents use them (threatening "do you want a time out?" over every.little.thing) but I have certainly been at a loss with my own kids, feeling like I need to "do" something to get them to mind me. I can see a parent feeling like a time out would help the situation.

But buying a MAT for this purpose? Wow.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I thought those products were totally hilarious! Are they being marketed as the perfect baby shower gift or something? It just seems like manufacturors of children's products are coming up with more and more absurd ways to try to make a buck off gullible parents.
BTW we just had a new baby and whenever anyone asked what we wanted as a baby gift, we asked them to please buy nothing for the baby and, if they wanted to give us a gift, to just buy a new toy for our older son. The proliferation of useless baby products is just ridiculous, and we don't really need anything new.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChanna


I don't know anyone who doesn't believe in discipline. However, I do know a lot of people who feel that punishment is not a great form of discipline. If you want to know how I discipline my children, I wrote about it in http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/10/20/my-discipline-spectrum/" rel="nofollow">My Discipline Spectrum. In particular, you might also be interested in the chart that I linked to that http://www.attachmentparenting.ca/articles/articled1.htm" rel="nofollow">compares discipline and punishment (which are NOT synonymous).

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

My children decide how long their time-outs need to be. Not that we call them that. I think they'd enjoy those light-up mats but I have no idea what they'd use them for.

In my family, a time-out chair that improved the child's mood (and therefore behaviour) would be a roaring success.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

One of my husband's workmates often tells the story of how his kid took himself off to the time out chair, sat there for 5 minutes then went and smashed the TV. According to the rules set, there wasn't much to be done - he'd had his 'poonish man' already.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergeek anachronism

Wow, Amber. That is quite the story. Being punished for playing.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Discipline is about teaching, not "paddling". I don't treat my 2 year old like a grown up, I treat him like a person, a person in a long learning process who needs my guidance. He needs to know WHY he shouldn't throw things in people's faces, and the reason is NOT to avoid a time out or a spanking (those things tend to teach kids not to get caught next time!)

Every generation complains there is something wrong with "today's youth"! :)

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

You know, I read once that young kids in time out don't sit there and think insightfully about what they did wrong and what they can do better next time, they sit there getting madder and madder about being punished. Sure sounds like that in this case!

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I disagree that children always need to have a fear of consequences to be good. I have known plenty of people of all different ages who are "good" because they enjoy being "good" people, not because they're scared they will be paddled or put on a time out mat.
And yes, I agree that discipline is a necessary, valuable part of growing up - of course little ones don't understand all of our society's "rights" and "wrongs." But you don't have to beat a kid into learning how to tie his shoes, why should you have to beat him in order to make him learn manners (etc.)? Kids learn social norms just like they learn other abilities - how to jump rope, how to add numbers together. It is just as possible to model and gently teach appropriate social behavior.

As far as the time out pads - are those really necessary? If you are going to give your child a timeout, why add the extra humiliation of a mat?

That time-out mat is RIDICULOUS! (And I just wrote about ridiculous children's products -- too bad I didn't know about this one!) I use time-outs like you do -- not as punishment but as time to cool off. My kids HATE it, but they know why they have a time out. Not "because you've been naughty," but because you need to take a breather and reflect and think about apologizing, etc. It works well for me, partly because I don't do it often. Usually, lucky me, counting to 3 works wonders even for my almost-5-year-old -- it's amazing! ;) I have to check out *Playful Parenting.*...

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHaley-O (Cheaty)

We use time outs with my children, but not in the traditional "sit there and think about what you've done" way nor do I set a timer of any sort. My daughter tends to act out in ways she knows not to when she gets overexcited or exceptionally hyper. The time out is used as a tool for her to calm down for a short period of time. After her time out is over, we calmy discuss what she did that I didn't approve of (I make her tell me what she went to time out for) and why it is not allowed. And I admittedly use it at times to calm *me* down. :)

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I do a similar thing, though we call it "breathing time". My middle is very hyper and very emotional, so going somewhere quiet to breath helps a lot. And helps me calm down when I'm frustrated! But it's never punishment, it's a chance to take a break and feel better again.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

Time outs have been a great tool for my kids. But we don't have a mat or a light. That seems like a huge waste of money to me.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

LOL at your son being excited about his punishment. I've seen the time-out mats and agree that they are ridiculous. It totally takes the parent out of the equation. Is someone seriously that lazy that they can't take the time to watch the clock themselves when they put their kid in a time-out?

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I do think 'breathing time' is a good term, because that's what it is, for the children. One goes in the hall, the other in the pantry (I don't know what we'll do once number three gets involved) and the parent gets some breathing room so he/she doesn't resort to smacking or yelling. When do we do this? When things get too heated, out of hand. When the children keep doing the same stupid thing (hitting each other, throwing toys, yelling too loudly,...). I think we only need to separate them like this about once a week, when one are both are very tired and quickly angered or upset. Sometimes our eldest (now 4) will take a short break of his own account, saying 'leave me alone, I'm angry', and come back after a few minutes of 'cool down time'. We don't do much talking, or sitting down at times like that, we just name the feeling (the child's, but also our own!), and suggest that we all take a break, and then find each other again.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSaartje

Heh, when it's me who needs a break, it's me who leaves the room; I storm off to my bedroom roaring and come back much better. The 6yo and 3yo do much the same, though sometimes I ask them to go somewhere to calm down, too.

And sometimes if there's violence I have to separate them physically, but that's not the same thing at all.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAilbhe

I was pitched a product similar to this once (possibly even this very product) and thought, my, how ridiculous to buy a product for time outs. Even worse--having an alarm sound if your child leaves early, as if your child were breaking out of a jail!

I don't think time outs are horrible in the grand scheme of things, though not the technique we choose to use, but I cannot stand the idea of these products.

Julian's mishearing was hysterical.

This brings up another issue--how to deal with it when a caregiver uses different discipline techniques. Obviously, if it is abusive, then you remove that caregiver from the child's life and report to the authorities if appropriate. But what about smaller differences in opinion? What if it is a loving grandparent who has the different style of disipline...


I don't think it was just mishearing - it was a totally foreign concept to him. He'd probably never heard the word punishment before.

With regards to caregivers with different discipline techniques, I'm okay with variation as long as the child is respected. That means no physical or verbal abuse. If a caregiver was abusive to my child, that would be a big problem for me. However, beyond that I think there is room for differences in style. I think even between parents there is room for differences as long as both parents are on the same page generally about the goals of discipline.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I understand what you mean/meant by it being a foreign concept...

I think there is a gap between "respected" and "abuse" (though this may be a semantics issue here) and that's where I run into issues with care givers. In this example, you don't believe a time-out is respectful but I don't think you believe it is abusive...do you accept this at public school? would you rule out a babysitter who does this? would you ask the grandparents not to do this? and what would you do if they did not listen...just an example, mind you. I'm just curious how other parents handle differences in values that go beyond mere "parenting styles" but do not cross over into abuse.


It has a lot to do with how things are implemented, I think. Julian is still at that school three years later and Emma is starting there in the fall, so obviously it is something I've accepted. Now if it were a frequent occurrence (i.e. it was the default way to keep kids in line - both the first resort and the last resort), then I would have a problem with that. I think the school has a responsibility to be teaching my child how to behave in a group setting and I don't think that a time out is a good teaching tool. If the other kids were being invited to taunt the child who is in a time out or if the teacher made a bit deal of humiliating the punished child in front of the others, then I would have a problem with that. I think there is a lot of grey area and I think intuition also plays a big role in determining whether an environment/caregiver is right for my child or not.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

For me time outs are a big change from the way that I was disciplined. My parents had no problem reaching for the belt when it was time for correction. Time outs allow me a break from very stressful situation to think how I am really going to deal with what happened. I think time outs are only really effective if you sit down and speak to the child about why the behaviour is wrong. I don't think of it is actual punishment but a way to separate me from my child until I can deal with the situation properly. They know that the time out corner is more of a break place and I certainly would not get a mat to tell them where to stand because it centers them out.

June 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

How wonderful that your child was able to reframe the situation in such a positive way. I've never been able to imagine how time out's really work unless it's either seen as a fun game like your son did or perhaps these time out mats with the fancy lights make it fun, or else there must be an implied threat of deeper punishment for not staying in the chair. If my daughter didn't want to sit in a chair or stand on a mat for 5 minutes I'm sure she wouldn't do it unless physically forced (or perhaps bribed) which means then you have to take it to the next level and where does it stop?

June 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfrauflan

Well, I'm sorry, but I know a man who was a rather "rambunctious" teenager whose high school still employed the paddle as a punishment option. Everyone got to choose either the paddle or detention/suspension. He says that nearly everyone would choose the paddle because it was quick and easy. A little bit of pain vs. a lot of boredom. Paddling doesn't seem to be as good of an incentive as some may think; paddling is a joke if you ask me. Treating a two-year old with respect and humanity is far from ridiculous.

July 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I knew a very well intentioned young Mom use the pad for time outs and she raved about how well it was working to keep her young son in line, and teach him to learn self control. I didn't think it was necessary and still do not like using punishments, and we are now seeing results when we treat him with respect like a person instead of just sitting him in the corner even when we made a point to talk about what he did wrong.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle

I don't think ther eis anything wrong with time-out as a tool for taking a step back and calming down, getting them away from the situation, etc. It doesn't equal a lack of parenting. As long as you are discussing WHy they went to time-out and better ways to behave, then it can be a useful tool. I don't necessarily like the mat with lights as it indicates a disconnect on the caregivers roll in it. If the green light says they can go they are most likely missing the important talk about what happened and how to do better next time.
I do use time-outs when I feel they are warranted. For care providers (such as myself with my daycare) there isn't the added aspect of reconnecting, checking omega-3s, etc. You are often dealing with a battle of your rules and guidelines up against what parents allow, etc so you need a consistent method. There are definitely kids who are not at all swayed to behave properly by the use of time outs.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSonia

Yeah, this is us exactly. I love time-outs for discipline because they give me time to think, regroup and become interactive, rather than just reactive. Once he's served time-out, we stop and talk about the issue, or clean up, or practice touching gently, or whatever needs to be done. It's certainly not "instead of" natural consequences. We do use a timer, because the kid responds better, and because it keeps me honest about addressing the issue in a timely way rather than just emptying the dishwasher while he's temporarily in stasis.

November 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

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