The use of 'Time Out' as a method of discipline seems to be almost universal these days. It comes in various forms: steps, spots, corners and chairs where the 'naughty' child has to stay for a period of time. It is not a method I use, and I am confident that I never will. Here's why.
The heart of Time Out is separation. The child is removed from the rest of the family as their behaviour is unacceptable. Yet a three year old is more likely to interpret this separation as because they themselves are innately unacceptable. I fully believe that when you feel bad, you behave badly, so a child who feels naughty is likely to behave that way.
Proponents of the technique argue that it allows the child time to reflect on their bad behaviour. I think this is hopelessly overoptimistic. Anger, frustration and tiredness are often at the root of misbehaviour. In such a state it is hard for a child to think logically about the consequences of their actions. Think about times in your childhood when you were sent to your room. If you lay on your bed thinking "I see now that the behaviour I showed was inappropriate. I shall try to improve in future." you had greater control of your emotions than I do as an adult! My thoughts veered wildly between believing myself to be the most hard done by child ever to have lived, seething anger at my parents or crushing guilt and self loathing (I was a dramatic child, but you get the picture!).
An added twist, which has gained popularity, is making the child apologise before finishing their time out. It makes sense to our adult minds. A wrong has been committed, punishment served, and to wrap it all up nicely, forgiveness is sought and given. I doubt very much that many of the apologies offered are anything like genuine. Sitting stewing in emotions such as those I mentioned previously is unlikely to foster heartfelt regret. What is a parent to do? Accept a sullen 'Sorry!' and move on, or utter the immortal phrase "Say it like you mean it!" What does that teach a child? To lie more convincingly if they are to be accepted back into the family again? To repress their true feelings to save themselves from further punishment? Neither the muttered apology or the seemingly sincere one are of any true value, and may well be damaging.
So what can you do? Let's face it, sometimes children misbehave. It's our job as parents to guide them, and to help our families work harmoniously. Children are inexperienced at dealing with big feelings. They need a helping hand, so removing them from the situation, and staying with them shows they are accepted warts and all even when their actions are not. From this position of security, they have a better chance of facing up to their behaviour and learning how to change it.
Out of the terrifyingly confusing morass of parenting advice, I carry one mantra. In fact it's a good one for life in general. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I was in the child's position, I know how I would want to be treated, and it wouldn't involve Time Out.