Separating a child from whatever activity is going on when she misbehaves allows her the space she needs to think about what she's done. But is a time-out detrimental to a child's self-expression?
Ariel Gore: Time-outs shouldn't be viewed as punishment; they're a cooling-off period after your child has bitten or hit someone, or is just really wound up. They shouldn't last too long -- just one minute for every year of a child's age. And setting kids off by themselves is ideal; they need to be away from the center of activity.
Claire Lerner: If your goal is to help your child express her feelings, a time-out can teach her to be more repressive -- you're giving her the message that when she's angry, she has to be alone and put those feelings under the rug.
This doesn't mean you can't walk out of the room when your kid is in the throes of a tantrum. Before you leave, say, "I see you're having a hard time and you need to pull yourself back together. When you're ready, you can come to me." The key is to give your child the control.
Marianne Neifert, M.D.: There's a danger in overusing time-outs. They're not a jail sentence, but a gift to help your child control her feelings. If you give a 4-year-old a four-minute time-out, and after two minutes she says she's ready to come out, let her. Ask her if she wants to talk about her emotions, but if she doesn't, don't push. Just name some of the ones you saw: "It looked to me like you were pretty upset or angry."
Since time-outs are about impulse control, they're effective only if you enforce them right away. If your son pulls his sister's hair, he should go into a time-out immediately. Don't ever say, "When we get home, you have to have a time-out," because by the time you get there, he'll have forgotten the incident and just feel confused.
William Sears, M.D.: Time-outs are appropriate whenever a child's misbehaving, but they'll work better if you use different names for them. You can say "You need thinking time" or "You need Susie time."