Is time up for time-out for New Zealand preschoolers?

Behaviour-control methods such as time-out and sending children to the "naughty step" are unprofessional teaching tactics in preschools, says an Auckland academic.

Unitec lecturer Pauline Bishop's comments have left early childhood centres scrambling for answers about what to do with naughty children - while other experts say Bishop is out of step.

Bishop, a lecturer with 20 years' experience in early childhood education, told an Early Intervention Association conference in Auckland last week that behaviour-control techniques popularised by TV's Supernanny were unprofessional for teachers. They also breached the United Nations (UN) Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the national curriculum.

She said Supernanny's techniques were fine in homes, but not in childhood centres. Rather than punishing children, teachers should be teaching them about their wrongs.

On Friday, Bishop, also a mother, told the Herald on Sunday her comments had "caused a furore" with many in the profession and she would not elaborate on her comments.

Dr Sarah Farquhar, chief executive of the Early Childhood Council, said Bishop's remarks were "a bit off". They provoked a flood of emails from centres asking her for the council's official stance on the matter because many used the time-out technique.

"This appears to have provoked quite a response and so far no one who has contacted me about this agrees with Pauline Bishop," said Farquhar, who emailed her response to all members.

Farquhar said Bishop's views were also at odds with the Office of the Children's Commissioner, which has recommended that parents use consistent mild punishments like time-out, or loss of privileges following negative behaviour.

Farquhar told members that time-out could be a useful technique as misbehaving children could learn what was expected of them. It helped children to reflect, problem solve, and learn from what they had done.

Time-out could also work well for a child when it involved moving him or her away from the negative situation.

Parenting guru Ian Grant, of Parents Inc, who has written books and runs seminars, said that time-out and the naughty corner should stay - they taught children the consequences of their actions.

"Otherwise they grow up and think the world is theirs," he said. "She [Bishop] comes from an era where the child does the parenting and runs the family. Parents have got to be the big people."

He said children "feel and act" and caregivers needed to teach children to "feel, think and act". Giving a child time-out, along with guidance, gave them time to think about their behaviour.

However, Grant was not a fan of Supernanny, calling Jo Frost the equivalent of an "A&E of hospitals ... she has to deal with wimpy parents who let them [children] run their lives".

Auckland's Milford Kindercare centre director Philippa Terei said they sometimes used time-out, in a positive way, as it taught consequences for actions and was good for children to cool down and reflect.

However, Sue Bradford, the Green party's spokeswoman for children's issues who helped drive the anti-smacking bill, backed Bishop, saying that caregivers should tell children what they were doing wrong rather than isolate and humiliate them.

Meanwhile, Farquhar said other techniques to use with misbehaving children were over-correction - for instance, asking a child to make up for the bad effects of what they had done (for example, helping tidy up the mess they made on the floor or saying sorry to the child they had hurt), or showing the child nice behaviours such as offering a toy to other children.

Caregivers should also reinforce children's positive behaviour with praise, acknowledgment, and sometimes extra treats.

Meanwhile, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Britain last week called for shows such as Supernanny to be screened after 9pm because they gave children ideas for winding up parents and teachers.

* Time-out and other tricks

Naughty step (or chair, corner, mat) - a set-aside area where children are isolated. Usually they stay for the number of minutes that match their age - such as three minutes for a 3-year-old.

Time-out away from a negative situation to cool off.

Over-correction - asking a child to make up for the bad effects of what they have done, such as tidying up a mess or saying sorry to a child they may have hurt.

Positive practice - an adult shows the child nice behaviours, such as offering a toy to other children.

Distraction - often used for very young children.

Loss of privileges.

Caregivers should also reinforce positive behaviour with praise, acknowledgment and sometimes extra treats so children want to be good.