As a former nanny, time out used to be one of my favorite discipline techniques. I learned in my college Child Development course that using a time out for toddlers can give them an opportunity to calm down in order to talk through a situation in a way that a child can understand, and can be helpful to redirect them.
However, over time, my feelings began to change toward using a time out for toddlers. I eventually dropped using time out altogether after deciding that it wasn’t teaching principles that I wanted kids to learn. Especially now as a mom, I’m grateful that I had the many opportunities to learn a different approach that was much more effective.
My goal for discipline is to start teaching as young as possible. Using effective discipline consistently means you will usually need to use less discipline in the future.
Here are 4 reasons I stopped using time outs for toddlers, and 4 methods I use to deal with difficult behavior instead.
4 Reasons I Stopped Using Time Out For Toddlers
1.Time out Can Create Power Struggles Between You and A Toddler
Time out can cause a tug of war over the feeling of control between an authority figure and a child. Nobody likes to feel that they are not in control of their own bodies and choices. I realized using a typical time out for toddlers was putting me in a position of control, and putting a child in a position where there was pressure to either submit or rebel.
Something I learned in therapy several years ago is that people often view God the same way they view their parents or other authority figures. With the culture that exists in schools and popular discipline techniques parents use, I realized that I grew up viewing authority figures, including God, as people that I had to submit to rather than teachers that care for me.
I believe God is a teacher who loves each of us individually and wants to help us become our highest and most joyful selves. This is the type of discipline that I want to model to my child.
Instead of creating a power struggle, I decided I wanted to take more time to identify the needs that were behind a child’s difficult behavior and teach them better ways to get their needs met instead. Try reading my post about one simple phrase that can help a child get your toddler to listen for more on this topic.
2.Time Out Doesn’t Teach Toddlers Anything Important
A toddler’s little mind doesn’t know how to rethink a situation and come up with an alternative solution on their own. That is probably why you were seeing difficult behavior in the first place.
Behavior is communication. It is likely that whatever behavior you are seeing is telling you that your child has a need that they aren’t sure how to meet any other way.
One common philosophy behind time out is that it creates a calm down period. Even as an adult, there are occasions that I put myself in time out in order to calm down. While it’s true that having time to calm down can be helpful for anyone, there are faster and more effective ways to teach children how to figure out what they need in order to calm down.
It can be helpful to ask a child if they need a break, but what they need most is your empathy, patience, and guidance while they work through their big emotions. Feeling empathy and love can help a child calm down much more quickly than spending time alone in time out. When they’re ready, you can help them identify what they need and more effective solutions to get their needs met.
3.Sending a Toddler For Time Out Can Make Them Feel Ashamed
A typical timeout can send the message to a child that their behavior is bad, or even that they are a bad kid. It’s important to remember that all kids are good kids who are simply trying to learn.
It’s easy to identify that when a baby hits or kicks, they are just learning about the world around them. However, it’s harder to recognize that the same is true for a toddler.
When we see that a toddler is experiencing big emotions like anger and frustration, we may assume that their actions are aggressive and intended to hurt. However, these emotions are completely normal because these emotions are part of being human. They are necessary for survival, and everyone experiences them. A toddler simply doesn’t know what to do with those big emotions yet.
As parents, we have the opportunity to teach kids how to work through these emotions and turn them into something positive.
4. Toddlers Might Perceive Time Out As A Withdrawal of Love
Sitting alone in isolation can send the message to a child that their actions caused the people they love to withdraw from them.
As I mentioned earlier, behavior is communication. When kids need our help the most and are working through big emotions, it is common for us to send them to be alone rather than coach them and help them through it.
Instead, if we can show them consistently over time that we are there to help them, it is much easier to get a child to listen. We begin to gain a toddler’s trust and respect when they understand that we are on their team and that we love them even when they don’t know how to get their needs met in appropriate ways yet. This also encourages independence because they understand that the world is safe, and your love for them is constant even if they make a mistake.
4 Things To Try Before Sending a Toddler For Time Out
1.Empathy: Try to See the Situation From Your Toddler’s Eyes
The ability to understand and see the emotions of someone else, without having to condone their actions, is called empathy. Empathy can go such a long way with humans in general. We all want to feel understood and to know that we are not alone, especially as children.
Try to take a second to understand what emotions your child is experiencing. Are they experiencing a violation of their personal boundaries? Maybe they’re not wanting to share something that belongs to them. Are they feeling hurt or frustrated? Maybe they felt left out, or were really excited about an idea they had and aren’t feeling heard.
How can you help them feel seen and heard and find a solution? Try to get on their level and understand the emotion they are experiencing.
Once you can empathize with them, point it out. “You seem really frustrated right now. Can you tell me more about that?” In my experience, children will point to blame or point out the situation that they feel frustrated with. For example, their brother took their toy, so that is why they decided to hit.
Next, express empathy. Don’t discount what they are saying. “That must have felt really frustrating when your brother took your toy and you didn’t want him to.”
Third, sometimes it can be helpful to explain that you can relate. “I don’t like it when people take my things without asking either.”
Once your child feels understood, you now have their attention. It is much easier to redirect their behavior at this point. “I’m sorry you were feeling so frustrated. I feel frustrated too when this happens. We need to understand that it’s not ok to hit when we feel this way. What is a better way to deal with being frustrated?”
For more ideas on how to practice empathy can be found in this article.
2. Identify what it is you really want your toddler to learn, and how you can model that yourself
What is it that you want your child to learn here? Continuing with the example of a child hitting because her brother took her toy, you probably want to teach that hitting is not the best way to deal with frustration.
How can you model these same values to your child?
3. Love: Remember good boundaries are always win-win
We set limits for our children because we love them, we want to keep them safe, and we want to set them up for success. I think it’s important to keep this in mind when we discipline. Remember, discipline means to teach; it is not punishment.
Asking your child to step away from a heated situation is most effective when it is not a punishment. You could say something like this: “You seem to be really frustrated about XYZ. I get frustrated about this sometimes too, but we need to be gentle with our friends. Let’s take a break for a minute to figure this out.”
If talking through the problem and empathizing with the child hasn’t stopped the behavior, you might decide yourself that your child needs a break, whether that’s from the situation, or from a toy they are using to hurt another child, etc. That’s totally ok, but remember, this is because you love them.
Once they’ve calmed down, talk through some scenarios for how to handle their big emotions. Have them go back and try again. You both win as you teach your child these skills.
In my experience, this means that a lot less discipline is needed in the future when discipline is approached this way.
4. Show Your Toddler An Increase In Love
It is difficult to be corrected. It naturally causes feelings of shame, not being good enough, feeling unwanted, etc. As humans, we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Praise is pleasing to the brain, and correction is painful.
Anytime you have to correct a child, or provide a consequence, remember to show an increase in love afterward. Praise them, and tell them how much you love them. Your gratitude for their goodness will only inspire more goodness inside of them.
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