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Naughty Steps

young child sat on stairs all alone crying with head in hands

Do naughty Steps work?

pink and blue time out chairs for young children going on naughty steps

Have you used a naughty step?

According to a recent survey, 74% of nurseries have abandoned using the naughty step while 95% don’t use the word ‘naughty’ because of the negative connotations attached to it.

Type into google ‘What is a naughty step?’ and it will come up with answers such as this one:

“A naughty step is a step on which a young child is told to sit on when they have behaved badly, or the use of such as step as a punishment: Be good or I’ll put you on the naughty step.”

Not only that but there are now actual naughty steps you can buy (with a timer for an additional charge) so you can send your child away when they are being naughty and misbehaving but provide them with a nice special chair which maybe makes you feel better about using such techniques?

The thing is naughty steps have been around for a long time and were made acceptable by Jo Frost on her TV show Super Nanny, it’s understandable why desperate parents turn to such punishing tactics when they are at their limit and don’t know what else to do.

However naughty steps do more harm than good and should be avoided at all costs. In today’s article I’ll break down why naughty steps are ineffective and harmful for children.


Children Need Connection Not Punishments

If you have to use a discipline method more than once, twice, three times and if you are using things like the naughty step week after week then it’s really not effective and sadly your child isn’t going to learn whatever you are trying to teach them.

Ross Greene author of The Explosive Child says “children do well when they can do well and when they can’t, it’s because they are delayed in the development of crucial cognitive skills.”

All to often the expectations placed upon children outstrip their skills so we need to help children develop these skills instead of reprimanding them for the unwanted behaviours which show up.

Children aren’t deliberately malicious, out to get you or pushing your buttons. They often are communicating their difficulties through the challenging behaviour you see. Whether that be whining, hitting, screaming, biting, lying, children are showing that they are having difficulty meeting certain expectations and what Ross Greene calls ‘lagging skills.’

When parents can start to understand that their child’s behaviour is not only communication but is also correlated to lagging skills then it can be easier to understand why punishing a child for their behaviour may not actually make things better or help them learn essential skills.

What Do Children Really Learn From The Naughty Step?

Parents may think that the naughty step teaches children a lesson when really it does the opposite. Have a think now about how you may have felt as a child if you were sent to the naughty step. 

A child could be feeling:

  • Bad about themselves – like they are a bad person and not worthy of love.
  • Resentful – harbouring big feelings of resentment towards the parent who put them on the naughty step.
  • Isolated and alone – disconnected, anxious, fearful.
  • Confused – confused about what they have done to warrant such a punishment
  • Even more defiant – a child who feels disrespected, unseen and unheard may become even more defiant
  • Less likely to co-operate – have a think about if your partner, co worker or friend placed you on a time out would it make you want to co-operate with them?


No where here are positive lessons being taught to a child, instead a child may develop many internalised limiting beliefs which they can carry through into adulthood.

A child who is misbehaving is often crying for connection and to be seen by their parent so a child needs a ‘time-in’ opposed to a ‘time-out.’

Why Naughty Step's Don't Work

When a child is having what we may call a ‘meltdown’ or ‘tantrum’ they actually need help with their big feelings and what they really need is a well regulated adult who can help them co-regulate.’

Regulating our emotions is a mature skill (a skill that many adults still struggle with) so it’s unrealistic to expect a child to be able to regulate and manage their emotions in a calm manner.

Not only that but children model what they see around them. So if they see a parent whose anger spills out of them in unhealthy ways then that becomes their model of ‘how to manage anger.’

There is no emotional coaching involved when a child is put on naughty step, instead a child is expected to sit and reflect upon their behaviour yet has little guidance on how to make sense of their feelings.

A dysregulated child’s brain is ‘offline’ so this is never a good time to try to teach them a lesson it’s the same reason why when you tell someone to try and calm down they just can’t do it, their brain is offline and when a child is dysregulated they need a parent to be able to help them unpack their feelings, be alongside them holding ‘space’ for their feelings and be their emotional coach.

Still Not Convinced That The Naughty Step Is Ineffective?
  • The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) which plays a central role in cognitive control functions and dopamine in the PFC modulates cognitive control which influences attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory, cognitive flexibility and executive functions is not fully developed until the age of 25.
  • “Children experience feelings of isolation and abandonment when placed in time out,” says Bonnie Compton, a child and adolescent therapist, parenting coach and author of “Mothering With Courage,” . “There is loss of contact, which can also be interpreted as loss of a parent’s love, especially for younger children. Kids who are sent to their room often believe their isolation is a result of being bad enough that parents do not want to be around them.”
  • “Healthy humans are social creatures,” psychiatrist Edward V. Haas  “We rely on others for physical survival and emotional support, which means when we are involuntarily cut off from other human beings, psychologically painful feelings of loneliness and anxiety arise. In children, this is amplified by their belief that they are helpless in the world without their parents to help them. The threat of separation from those who protect them can cause severe anxiety and psychological discomfort in a child.”
  • Nadia Sabri, a board-certified pediatrician says “Emotional modulation and regulation occurs with development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which doesn’t fully develop until adolescence.” This means putting a child by themselves in a timeout situation and telling them to think about what they’ve done is generally a waste of time.

Reference can be found here:

Want To Stop Using The Naughty Step And Learn How To Emotionally Coach Your Child?