How should I use time outs with my toddler?
Real Mom Problem
“When I put my 2 year old in the corner for time outs she screams the whole time. It doesn't seem to be helping at all. She is getting worse. Am I doing it wrong?”
- 1. Children under 2 may not be able to sit still for formal time outs
- 2. For younger toddlers, try a modified time out by choosing a calming activity to do together
- 3. Choose a time out area that's free from distractions like television, toys, or other children
- 4. Try these steps for effective time outs: Give a warning. If the warning is ignored, explain the bad behavior and begin the time out. After the time out, explain again, then offer affection and forgiveness
- 5. Always follow through with a threatened time out if the offending behavior persists after the child has been warned
Real Mom Solutions
Time outs can be an effective way to stop a toddler's unwanted behavior, but how and when should they be used? Read successful tips and tricks from the moms of CafeMom, then decide if time outs are right for you!
Wait for the Right Age
I started using time outs with my daughter around 15 months. When she could comprehend what "No" meant and that she needed to listen. I would put her in her crib and tell her she need to take a time out. She would cry and I would only leave her in there a minute. Then I sat her down on my lap and talked to her. Told her I loved her and that it's not ok to do things when mommy says no. She would always hug me on her own after we talked and she didn't do the act that got her in trouble (at least for that whole day). To me that showed she understood me and was repentant for not listening. If your child can understand most of what you say I think its fine to try it. Plus it gives you a time out to cool down if you're frustrated because they can feed off your frustration and want to act out more.
We started using them at 18 months for both kids just so they got used to the pattern even though for practical purposes, it's too young to make any impact on behavior. Time outs in my house have always been a breeze because it's just always been that way.
I think 14 months is too young. They don't have the memory to remember that you said no plus they're trying to figure it all out. Distraction and redirection are better ways to discipline at this age.
Choose Your Spot & Your Strategy
With both of my kids, we designated a foot stool as the time out chair. I put it in the kitchen and they have to sit on it. They do not have to look at the wall; just sit there until the timer goes off. My daughter would scream and cry, but she would sit there. Then, when she was misbehaving, I always gave her a warning, "Stop or you are going in time out." Or, "Do you want to go to time out?" She always says no, so I say, "Then stop." My kids are not in time out very often because they hate it, so when I give them a warning they stop so they don't have to go in time out. You are gonna have to find a method and spot that works best for you. Time out is a life saver with our kids.
Naughty Spot seems to work best with both my little ones. Our spot is a corner - and yes they have to face the corner. Mine are 2 and 4 so they are a little more compliant then a 1 year old. We started the naughty spot at 1 with both of them and it took about a month to get each of them to actually sit there and settle down. Just have to be consistent and not scream at them. Remain calm. Tell them why they are there and that they can get up when they apologize and are ready to be a good girl/boy. I never let mine get up until the crying and screaming has come to a stop and they are calm. Then I ask them to apologize and I give them a hug and let them get up. Now when somebody is in trouble I just have to point and tell them to go to the naughty spot and they listen. Takes time and patience but it does work in our house.
We designated a chair (which never moves) in the dining room as "the time out chair". He sits in the chair for three minutes (one minute for every year of his age). When the timer goes off, we discuss what went wrong. He apologizes, we give hugs and kisses, and off he goes.
Putting him on the couch for 1 minute doesn't seem like much of a time out to me. He sits on the couch anyway (at other times) so he will not associate it with a punishment. Try making a different spot a time out spot - like a time out chair in the far corner of the room where he feels you are really cutting him off from the fun, toys and your attention.
Make him stay in time out until he can tell you what he did wrong. You may have to tell him 3 or more times, but he can not leave his time out until he repeats you. This worked for my son. And remember to stay consistent.
In our house time out doesn't even start until the screaming and tantrums stop. And if he starts again after his timer is going the time starts over.
Be Consistent and Don't Give In
I'm going to tell you, the first week you start the time outs; it's going to be rough. He's going to test you, to see how far he can push. Don't give in, stay calm, and keep trying. The minute you give, is the minute it will go back to the way it was.
Be consistent and don't show your emotions. Don't react. Come up with a list of things that will get two warnings before punishment. Then come up with a list of things that involve immediate punishment (hitting, biting, etc.). Practice it to the T, without wavering. Show them you are in control by not reacting to their laughing. If they get out of a time out, put them back, sternly, without yelling, without pleading, without getting emotional.
Try a Creative Approach
My 2 year old has always been a time-out kid. Ever since he learned to crawl he would give himself time outs when he was upset. He would crawl to his room and climb in bed, and we called it "taking a break" because we didn't want his bed to be associated with a time-out, which is a negative thing. He still takes "a break" sometimes if he feels himself getting upset, and we completely encourage it. Time-outs are absolute torture to him, but they work!
At 2 years old, a 'time-out' might be too much for her, especially if she's kicking and screaming and whatnot. I would try to put a pillow in the corner, maybe in the kitchen (away from distractions, if it has to be in the living room then shut the TV off), and call it her "calm down corner". There doesn't have to be a set time for how long she has to be there, just until she calms down. When you do notice her sitting there, and not making a fuss, go and talk to her. Sit on the floor, and ask: "Why are you acting like this? Can you tell Mommy what happened? Does it bother you when so-in-so says this, or does that?" You know, play dumb. Let her talk it out with you, and she might feel better
Remember, discipline is teaching. You want to teach him how to control his emotions, act kind, and all that good stuff. Time out is a consequence to breaking a rule and the idea behind it is being separated from everyone else and given time to calm down so they can come back and try again. They don't have to be sitting in time out sad for it to be effective. Trying to control every ounce of what he does is just a power struggle. Ignore what he's doing in time out as long as he's staying put. Remember the lesson at hand and when he gets out, tell him the rule again and see if he does better. If not, maybe you need a different disciple strategy than time out.
Don't Use Time Outs
A child that age is not mentally and developmentally able to even process "time out." No wonder she's getting worse. I would too if every time I reached out for something (love, attention, direction) I was pushed away and shoved in a corner to "think about what I did." She's not going to sit there and think about what she did. She's going to sit there and feel abandoned, misunderstood and angry which is why she's getting worse. And an older child will simply sit there and "think" about how to retaliate. Why do people think you have to make someone feel bad to get them to act differently? That makes no sense. What are her behaviors that are frustrating you? They are likely things that are typical and necessary for a child's development. Sounds like she needs some "time in" instead of a "time out."