Pulling out the time-out chair works like magic for some families, but for others, not so much. Whether it’s because Mom and Dad are philosophically against time-outs, or because time-outs simply aren't working on your kid, they're certainly not the only way to manage your child's bad behavior. The biggest thing parents can do to steer their child's behavior in a positive direction? Start with themselves. "The most effective practice any parent can take on in order to shift their children’s behavior is for Mom and Dad to get a hold of themselves first," says Lisa McCrohan, compassion coach psychotherapist at Georgetown University. "In any stressful situation, if we want our children to learn effective emotional regulation and make good choices, then we as parents have to be the ones to model it."
McCrohan, along with many other experts, feel that practicing mindfulness with ourselves -- being in touch with our emotions, nourishing ourselves, thinking before we speak -- goes a long way when it comes to our kids' behavior. That said, we can be as enlightened as Buddha, but kids are still kids, and they aren't going "behave" 100% of the time. What to do in those situations?
Why not try one of these 10 time-out alternatives. They may be a little unconventional, but in the long-run, they will help build loving, trusting relationships with your child while helping them to behave in a positive manner.
- Offer a hug. We've all been there. We're at a party and our kid suddenly has a melt-down and runs off. It's embarrassing, concerning, and of course we think everyone is judging us. What do we do to quickly defuse the situation? Try offering a hug. "It might sound strange to offer a hug, like we are condoning the behavior we’ve just seen in our children," says McCrohan. "But connecting before correcting is important. When a child is misbehaving, we first want to restore connection. Offering a hug is one way to join with your child, give them that deep but gentle pressure they need around their bodies, and connect with each other before addressing the behavior."
- Help her describe her feelings. When your child is reacting in a way you’d rather them not, acknowledge them by helping them to name what they are feeling. "Address, acknowledge, and name feelings first before jumping into how they shouldn’t have done such and such or need to go and apologize, etc.," suggests McCrohan. It will help them calm down and get in touch with their emotions.
- Hang out ... together. Many experts agree that time-in can go a long way with children of all ages. With time-in, you invite your child to sit somewhere with you so they can express their feelings and cool down. The goal of time-in is two-fold: One, hopefully, your child will have lost the desire to engage in whatever negative behavior he was prior to time-in, and two, this is a good opportunity for you to empathize with your child's feelings and address whatever inappropriate behavior they were partaking in. Your child will be more likely to hear what you're saying, and heed your advice, when he's calm and feeling loved and listened to. "When you see a child misbehaving, simply say, 'You must need some extra special time with me. Why don’t we do this together,'" notes McCrohan.
- Tell him how good he is. Sadly, many of us are wired to notice the negative –- about both ourselves and others. But with practice, we can change this. "When you wake up, start your day by bringing to mind what you love about your children," says McCrohan. "And share with your children how you see the innate goodness in them." This lays a positive blue-print for the day -- for both you and your children -- and hopefully disciplinary tactics won't be needed.
- Stay and listen. When a child is really losing it, he isn't going to hear all the explanations and reasonings you give -- and he certainly isn't going to understand the point of his time-out. "Instead, go to your child and say, 'I’ll be with you,'" suggests McCrohan. "Rub their back (depending on if they like that touch) and just be present. Don’t say anything, reason with them, ask them what’s wrong, or try to rush them trough the process. Just stay and listen." By doing this, your child will learn that he matters, and that you can handle her emotions no matter what.
- Let her express emotions in a different way. If your child is feeling angry, which is a perfectly fine emotion, let them know that you get that they're feeling angry and give them something to do other than taking it out on you, their siblings, or classmates. "When a ‘bad’ behavior occurs, address the feeling underlying it by naming it, and giving the child another way to express it," suggests Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D, author of How Toddlers Thrive. "Putting words to feelings is part of how children learn to regulate or handle them." For instance, say, "I know you're angry that we can't do that now, but I won’t let you hit me. Here is a pillow to hit." This is a more "acceptable" way to express anger, and it lets your child know that they haven't lost your love and approval.
- Teach him to tune-in to feelings. Instead of offering your child candy or a high-five every time he does something good, ask him how his good behavior made him feel. "Questions like: 'How did it feel to offer your friend your last cookie?' or 'What did it feel like to help set the table for dinner?' encourage a child to tune into their inner experience," says McCrohan. When children are more in touch with their feelings, they're less likely to act out.
- Pretend to be a stuffed animal. For some kids, having their stuffies teach them a lesson works like magic. If they throw something, have the stuffed animal "tell" them why they shouldn’t do that. No offense, but they'll probably prefer hearing it from them than from you.
- Redirect them. Child climbing on the stove? That's a big no-no, and you certainly want to convey the message that that's not okay. Instead of making a giant scene and trying to send your little one to time-out (which is never good after a giant scene), tell them, "Wow, you're a great climber, but we never climb on the stove. You can get a big boo-boo like that." And then redirect your child to a more appropriate place to climb, such as the couch or a on a pile of pillows.
- Ask yourself if a time-out is really necessary. Sometimes, it's a knee-jerk reaction for us to get annoyed when our kids don't do "as they should." But take a moment and ask yourself: Is this really cause for punishment? Are they intentionally being naughty, or are they just being a kid? The book, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers encourages parents to walk a mile in their kid's tiny shoes before criticizing their actions. "Before you can help your child choose different behavior, you must understand why your child is behaving this way, and what he is trying to accomplish with his behavior," the book explains. "Behavior actually is a coded message that reveals a child’s underlying beliefs about himself and about life. When your child misbehaves, he is telling you in the only way he knows that he is feeling discouraged, or that he doesn’t belong. As you learn to decipher the code, you will find that your responses, and eventually, your child’s behavior will change."
What time-out alternatives work for you?