Tired of the Time-Out? Here are some new ideas!

01/04/2013

In my previous post, we discussed the efficacy of time-outs and why, ultimately, I am going to rarely recommend them.  Time-outs stop working, then the parent soon starts to struggle and fight with the child to get them into the designated spot and stay there.  This struggle only grows more power struggles between the parent and the child.

So, what is a parent to do with the hitting, scratching, fit-throwing, biting, kicking menace that has replaced their beautiful and calm toddler?

Photo Credit: Ken Wilcox
Photo Credit: Ken Wilcox

Here are some replacement ideas for the time-out!

1.  Prevent, prevent, prevent.  When you really look at your schedule, you can oftentimes see patterns of when your child is misbehaving the most.  It is before nap time?  Lunch?  Are they bored and cranky around 4:30 pm every day?  Toddlers and young pre-k children can be tough...there can appear to be no patterns!  It is a useful to look...so take note and make a plan for prevention.  Do you need to carry healthy snacks?  Have you been correctly reading the exhaustion signs?  Can you cut a play date or activity off a bit earlier to side-step the misbehavior?  Are you asking too much of your child (sitting at a table for 30 minutes each night)?  Are you not giving your child any freedom or responsibility (a two year old can start to set the table, tear lettuce, etc.)?  Asking yourself these questions can be the best medicine...prevention!

2.  Divert, divert, divert.  If the misbehavior is just beginning, I strongly recommend you find something (anything) else to focus on!  "Look, David!  Did you see the bird?  Let's look together!  Or "Lauren, will you help me find my new pen!  I think I left it over here..."  Or "Who wants to have a dance party?"  Or "Let's put together this puzzle..."  The point is, parents often want to spend time talking to their kids about the misbehavior in the hopes of "teaching a lesson," but diverting your young two year old's attention is a more effective brain-based way of handling it!

3.  Speaking of understanding the brain...your young child does not have the brain matter to handle the lectures about behavior.  When the behavior has become unacceptable, you scoop up the child, say "No Hitting" once, sternly and quietly.  You move that child into another situation, room, option, or choice...but they cannot return to the infraction and nor should you continue talking.  For the immature brain it is action, not words, that matter the most.  As soon as your child does something acceptable, you say, "thank you for helping me clean up the dining room floor, look how clean it is!" with a big hug.  You are moving from an emphasis on the negative to an emphasis on the positive.  If we are able to pay more attention to the behavior we want, our children will see our smiling faces and want to repeat the good stuff! 

Again, if time-outs are working for you (meaning the behaviors are getting better and you are not getting angrier), by all means...keep it.  If, though, the time-outs are making everything worse...try something new!


A mother of three young children and a parent coach, Meghan Leahy teaches parenting techniques to both individuals and groups in the Washington D.C. area, as well as all over the country. Meghan is a frequent contributor to The Washington Post parenting blog "On Parenting." To find out more, please visit Positively Parenting.
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