Literary references to the grounding of unruly children have lingered since at least the early 19th century, when the father strictly ordered his son Wallace “to go to his own room” in Catharine Sedgwick’s 1835 novel “Home” after he scalded a cat.
Such banishes were later embodied in the 1894 watercolor “The Naughty Corner” by Swedish artist Carl Larsson, a picture of a sullen little boy banished to a chair in the living room.
In the late 1950s, not long after the birth of his daughter Jennifer, Arthur W. Staats turned more or less arbitrary parental punishment into a cornerstone of behavioral psychology and a household phrase. He called it a “time out”.
Extensive experiments by Dr. Staats (rhymes with “stains”) and his co-workers found that removing a child from the scene of inappropriate behavior and whatever provoked them rooted an emotional bond with restraint and was preferable to punishment. As a bonus, frustrated parents were given a short break.
Dr. Staats emphasized that children should be warned in advance of the consequences of their behavior and that the tactic of “time out” should be used consistently and within the framework of a positive parent-child relationship. He advised that time off (usually five to 15 minutes) should end when the child stopped misbehaving (e.g., having a tantrum).
Dr. Staats died on April 26, aged 97, at his home in Oahu, Hawaii. His son, Dr. Peter S. Staats said the cause was heart failure.
Arthur Staats had experimented with taking time off with his two children at an early age. “My sister and I were trained using the time-out method that my father invented in the late 1950s,” wrote Dr. Peter Staats in Johns Hopkins Magazine last year.
His sister, Dr. Jennifer Kelley, gave her own touch to the development of the process. “A few years ago,” she said in an email, “my brother made the joke that I was so bad my father had to make up some time out.”
In 1962, when Jennifer was 2 years old, Dr. State of Child magazine: “I put her in her crib and told her to stay there until she stopped crying. If we were in a public place, I would pick them up and go outside. “
He also experimented with preschool learning, taught his daughter to read before she was three, and invented a “token reinforcement system”: a device he developed distributed tiny tokens that could be saved and later exchanged for toys and other prizes .
That Peter founded the Pain Medicine Department at Johns Hopkins University and Jennifer became a child and adolescent psychiatrist may be a measure of her father’s success.
The older Dr. Staats described his approach as psychological behaviorism and cognitive behavioral psychology. His perspectives on emotional development and learning were so diverse that in 2006 Child magazine named him one of the “20 People Who Changed Childhood”.
American Pediatrics magazine reported in 2017 that a recent survey found that 77 percent of parents of children aged 15 months to 10 years needed time off to moderate their behavior.
Montrose M. Wolf, one of Dr. Staats, mentioned the procedure in a 1964 study, and Dr. Staats explained it in the book “Learning, Language and Cognition” published in 1968.
He was considered one of the few pioneers in behavior modification. As he wrote in his book “Marvelous Learning Animal” (2012): “Our small group provided the basis for the areas of behavior therapy and behavior analysis.”
While much research has focused on how differences in brain chemistry and physiology affect behavior and literacy, Dr. Staats that more studies are needed on how a child’s learning and environment influenced these differences.
His experiments, he wrote, showed that “children have a variety of explicit problem behaviors that can be addressed through explicit training” – that dyslexic children can be trained to read and that a child’s IQ can be improved. The research, he claimed, provided “irrefutable evidence of the tremendous power of learning to determine human behavior.”
Arthur Wilbur Staats was born on January 17, 1924 in Greenburgh, NY, in Westchester County, to Frank Staats, a carpenter, and Jennifer (Yollis) Staats, a Jewish immigrant from Russia. His father died when he was 3 months old just days after the family disembarked in Los Angeles after traveling from the east coast to the west via the Panama Canal. His mother supported the couple’s four children by doing laundry for neighbors.
Arthur was an indifferent student mainly devoted to sports and reading for pleasure. At 17, he dropped out of high school to join the Navy and served on the battleship Nevada during the D-Day invasion. After the war, he enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles under the GI Bill.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1949, a master’s degree in psychology in 1953 and a doctorate in general experimental and clinical psychology in 1956.
After teaching as a professor of psychology at Arizona State University and as visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin, he was hired by the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1966. There he was professor of psychology until his retirement in 1997 and became professor emeritus.
Dr. Staats married Carolyn Kaiden, a fellow PhD student at UCLA. You worked on the book Complex Human Behavior: A Systematic Extension of Learning Principles (2011). In addition to his son and daughter, she survived him along with five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The legacy of Dr. Staats was reflected in the license plate of his silver BMW – TYM-OUT – and in the behavior of his great-grandchildren.
“We have two, ages 6 and 3, and they are really wonderful little girls,” said Dr. Kelley about her grandchildren. “The little one is very funny. If she does something wrong, she takes a break for herself. I guess she saw her sister take a break so she figured out how it works. “