Monday, June 27, 2011

Time Outs and the Question of Culture in Discipline

Christina's kids goofing around. She chooses time-outs as
her strictest disciple rather than spanking.
By Christina Simon

In a recent post, Tara Kamiya, founder of the wonderful blog, Multicultural Familiawrote about the surprise she encountered when she got ready to open a day care, “Now as I complete my application to start a daycare in NY State I find out that ‘Time Out’ is prohibited and deemed as a humiliation technique frowned upon by the state.”

What? No time-outs? I consider myself a modern mom, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use time-outs. My kids attend a progressive, private elementary school, where time-outs are used to have a kid sit outside the classroom when s/he is being disruptive. I use time-outs and they work for my kids. I don’t have a lot of other effective options when things are going downhill faster than a tumbling boulder. This is, of course, after using words to discuss the problem has failed miserably. 

Sometimes kids just need time away to get themselves together. Not too long, not isolated for long periods of time. Never missing dinner or anything drastic. Just a few minutes to calm down.

Tara makes another interesting observation,Childhood discipline is a cultural issue when you come right down to it. Coming from an African American background there was no talking, we were spanked and happy to survive.”

Race is one of a complicated mix of factors that influence parenting and discipline techniques. As a mixed-race kid (African American and white), I recall my African American mom talking about being spanked and it brought back terrible memories for her. She never wanted that for her kids. So, we were parented with words, patience and tolerance, with very few rules and certainly no physical violence. I agree with Tara, some traditional African American households do believe in spanking their kids. However, I’ve never spanked my kids and I never will.

We’ve all see the stereotypical “welfare mom” in the Walmart with her kids, slapping them around when they act up. Nobody wants to be that mom. Yet poverty doesn’t have a monopoly on physical discipline of kids. My husband, raised on the Mainline of Philadelphia, a wealthy enclave, was beaten with a belt by his dad. Driving home from a bookstore in Los Angeles a few years ago, I watched with horror as a white mom in a new Mercedes SUV turned around to her toddler strapped in the back seat and hit him in the face several times. I pulled up along side of her, told her I was watching her and followed her in my car for several miles, with my baby in the back seat. I was shaking. She flipped me off, but stopped hitting her kid. 

Clearly, no single ethnicity or income group has a monopoly on hitting their kids. 
Living in the liberal Westside of Los Angeles, parenting styles here tend toward child-centered, self-esteem boosting philosophies. Parents here, for the most part, would never hit their kids. We are too busy focusing on eating organic and finding the right “mommy and me” class. Hitting one’s kid here is simply not an option, with a few exceptions. I do know two moms who spank their kids. It’s definitely out of the norm for Los Angeles and it makes me cringe. Yelling and timeouts are, however, used frequently by parents in this crowd.

Regional differences in discipline occur, like regional accents. In some areas of the country, like the South, for example, discipline may be harsher than on the Westside of Los Angeles or the Upper West Side of New York. One of my friends who spanks her kids is Southern. I don’t have a problem with time-outs. “Go to your room” is sometimes my last resort when my kids are getting out of control.

Christina Simon is the co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles.” She also writes the blog, about applying to private elementary schools in Los Angeles and the ups and downs as life as a private school mom. Christina is a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. She has a 7-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Christina lives in Los Angeles with her husband and kids. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley and an M.A. from UCLA. Christina has written recent guest blog pieces for Diaries Of A Mixed (Up) Kid, Mamapedia, Scary Mommy, BlogHer Syndication, Open Salon (Edior’s Pick Front Page), The Mother Company, The Well Mom, Reading Kingdom, Girls Lunch Out, Front Page of Divine Caroline, The Twin Coach, A Child Grows In Brooklyn, ecomom, Power of Moms, The Culture Mom, A Hip Chick’s Guide To PMS, Pregnancy & Babies, Sane Moms and Macaroni Kids.


  1. My dad (white, middle-class) grew up in the south and had to go pick his own "switch" he was then hit with. I think it was fairly common then.

  2. Great post and very timely as I have been struggling with finding the best way to discipline my daughter who is turning 2 in a few months. I'm African American and raised in L.A. by parents from the no talking, just spanking. My husband is Japanese and was physically punished, especially harsh because he was leading judo player. We haven't discussed discipline but I have decided to do time outs. That is a challenge because my family prefers the old spanking ways.