Isolation as Punishment
Isolation is temporary exclusion. The most common form of isolation is taking a timeout. The purpose of isolation is not to ostracize or reject the child. It separates the child from a problem situation and begins a process to help the child commit to correcting misbehavior so he or she can behave acceptably in the family once again. The corrective sequence is separation time, thinking time, and discussion time. Then it is time for re-entry.
After getting the child out of the problem situation, a timeout should last only however long as is needed for the child to be willing to calm down, think out, and then talk out what happened and what he or she will do differently from now on.
So, after your daughter has grabbed the remote control from her younger brother (whose turn it was to select a TV program) and hit him when he objected, you give her a timeout to think about what she did. She violated the family rules against taking and hitting.
When she feels she has calmed down, has thought about the incident enough, and feels ready, the girl lets the parent know she is ready for discussion. This means she feels ready and willing to talk about what happened, why it happened, and what she's going to do differently the next time so this misbehavior doesn't happen again. This discussion must be to the parent's satisfaction. This is where correction gets to have instructional value.
Children learn from experience only when they accept the consequences of their decisions. They won't learn from consequences so long as they deny responsibility for personal choice or parents deal with those consequences for them.
Fully discussing what happened helps to further develop talking-out skills, which may then (you hope) be used to work out solutions in the future instead of just acting out objections. Of course, once the timeout sequence has been completed, you should make sure a positive focus on the child and your relationship has been restored.
Keeping Emotions Down
Timeouts also serve another purpose. When either you or your child, or both of you, are getting too emotionally intense about an issue in a disagreement, declare a mutual timeout to cool each of you down. The purpose of this timeout is to reduce emotional arousal, restore perspective, and then reopen the discussion, both of you now prepared to “start over” in a more reasonable manner. During this cooling-off period, you have each had a chance to think up some new ways of approaching the issue at difference between you.
One very positive timeout for all concerned can be a family vacation — a time when normal tensions, differences, and hostilities are often suspended because the usual duress of living together does not apply. “We fight all the time at home, but we had a great vacation!” You've taken everyone out of normal family context, where now the focus is simply on having fun. A vacation can be a “getaway.” For a lot of families, it is a timeout that pays enormous dividends, reminding all concerned how they really value and can enjoy each other's company.