The Naughty Step Doesn't Work!

24/09/2014 17:54 | Updated 20 May 2015

The naughty step doesn't work!

Her joy is palpable as Barbara Jeans, a mother of three from Colorado, gets her rebellious four-year-old to sit on the naughty step and then to apologise for her behaviour.

OK so I am watching an old episode of Supernanny USA, and it must help having parenting supremo Jo Frost by your side for support. Yet suddenly I am convinced that like Barbara, I can create a harmonious household too.

Cut to a less palatial home in Hertfordshire and one rather red-faced and reluctant child.

This is the scene as I try to get my three-year-old daughter Rose to sit on the naughty step a couple of days later.

Rose: "I hate you. I want Daddy."

Me: "You need to think about your behaviour."

Rose: "No. Not going to," she yells, wriggling free and bolting upstairs.

Game over. Nothing learnt, and after 10 minutes of excruciating wrangling, my head is now throbbing with frustration.

The naughty step has never once worked for me. Nor has 'time out' or rational reasoning – those other popular hallmarks of contemporary parenting.

'Supernanny US': How to Use the Naughty Chair Correctly

My children seem to respond better to quiet encouragement or short, sharp reprimands. But I am still convinced I am missing a trick.

Visit any parenting thread, and so many of the mums and dads are fans of the naughty step. Clearly though, it doesn't work for everyone.

Like me, my friend Gemma, mum to seven-year-old Louisa, gave up on it too.

"I have seen my sister use it successfully with her son who is the same age," she says. "Those magic minutes give everyone a chance to calm down but Louisa just refused to sit still."

Yet another friend of mine, Kate, who is mother to Olivia, nine, and Toby, eight, absolutely swears by modern methods of discipline.

She uses the naughty step, time out and reward charts successfully for both her children.

"The naughty step works particularly well for Olivia as she tends to be emotional and gets very angry when she is told off," says Kate.

"If I sit with her for nine minutes and we talk about her behaviour, it immediately helps her to calm down and to reflect on what she has been doing wrong."

Inspired, I decide to give it one more go, visiting Jo Frost's website for more specific advice.

I discover there are six steps to the technique: First, I should explain to my daughter gently what she is doing wrong.

"You need to sit down at the table," I tell Rose, as she kneels precariously over her breakfast.

No response.

"Otherwise it's time out and the naughty step," I simper.

A scowl.

We go straight to step 3 and I lead Rose to the bottom of the stairs. I tell her what she has done wrong again and explain she needs to sit still for three minutes – as the instructions specify one minute for every year of a child's life.


Rose bursts into tears and starts screaming that she's a good girl.


Five minutes of embittered conflict ensue. I should well and truly be on step 4 by now, the walking away stage. This would normally be followed by step 5, a further explanation of the bad behaviour and then step 6, cuddles.

Rose and I go straight from step 3 to step 6, as the only thing keeping my child on that step is my arm on her knees.


Now I need time out, but I am still no better equipped to discipline my daughter. So what is the alternative?


My mother Barbara, 68, a grandmother of four, offers up a more traditional approach to discipline.

"It is great that children today are more involved in their own punishments, but you can take reasoning too far," she tells me on the phone that night. "My generation seemed to have firmer boundaries. Our kids knew the rules."

Elaine Halligan, director of the Parent Practice, a London based parenting consultancy, which offers 22 different courses and workshops, agrees with my mum that rules are essential to good discipline.

Her view is that if children have clear boundaries there should be no need for punishment at all.

"Our emphasis is on giving specific praise for good behaviour in order to minimise bad behaviour," she says.

When Rose refuses to sit at the table again, Elaine tells me I should try and focus on all the things she has done right rather than the one thing she has done wrong.

"Praise her for washing her hands and for holding her knife and fork.

"Then ask her what other rules she knows about meal times, and I bet she will be delighted when she comes up with the right answer," she assures me.

"Children actually like to behave well as it makes them feel good about themselves," Elaine adds.

"This is why I don't like the step as kids are branded as naughty, causing the bad behaviour to escalate."

It makes sense. Elaine's approach is about creating a firm structure and boosting self-esteem rather than destroying it.

Later I sit down with Rose and her older sister Ella, five, and I ask them to come up with a set of rules for crossing the road. Half an hour of brainstorming later, we've created our own little code of conduct. But will it make a difference?

A few days later, to my amazement, both girls look left and right before crossing the road. Normally once they reach the pavement, they race right off.

"That was brilliant," I tell them as they run ahead. "Can you remember what you need to do next?"

"Keep holding your hand," they chorus, grabbing hold of me, their little faces flushed with pride.

I smile just like that Colarado Mum from the telly. The only difference is there isn't a stool, a step or a parenting expert in sight.

What do you think? How do you give your children clear boundaries? Does the naughty step work for you?

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