7 Time Out Alternatives

“Time out” is the discipline method of choice for thousands of parents. For many, sending their child to time out when they act out or aren’t listening is a successful form of punishment. However, is time out really your best option? Here are seven gentle parenting alternatives to the traditional time out method of discipline.

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Why Time Outs Don’t Always Work

Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids and creator of AhaParenting.com, believes that “timeouts, while infinitely better than hitting, are just another version of punishment by banishment and humiliation.” Instead of really teaching your child a lesson, time out can make them feel bad about themselves and create a lowered self-esteem. And do you really think your 2, 3, or even 4-year-old sits in time out and thinks about what they did wrong and how they can do better next time? More likely, they are just feeling unloved and maybe even experiencing feelings of disdain towards you as a parent. Instead, you can focus on being there with them and working through problems together.

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1. Try “Time In”

Instead of automatically banishing your child to time out when they act out, stop what you are doing and spend some quality time with them. Many times when a child lashes out it’s due to pent up tension over several things they can’t quite articulate or even just boredom. Let them know that what they’ve done is not okay and then proceed to spend some time reading together, coloring, or even just snuggling up on the couch. Let them cry if they need to cry or continue their tantrum, all while just being there for them. The storm will pass and your child will feel loved, regardless of their behavior. And there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be better behaved for the rest of the day.

Learn more about transforming the “time outs” into “time ins” in the popular parenting book Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham.

2. Take a Parental Time Out

Depending on the situation, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away before you lose your temper and react too harshly. This can be particularly helpful when your child is in the throws of a tantrum. Instead of trying to wrangle them in to time out or reprimand them in a moment when they are definitely not listening, walk away and take some deep breaths and regroup. Take a little time out of your own.

3. Create a Calm Down Corner

Many times a child misbehaves when they are feeling over-stimulated or frustrated with a situation. Sometimes an easy solution is just to remove them from the extra stimuli and have them spend some time in a place that is calming. You can create a designated “calm down corner” of the house, or even just take them to a quiet non-distracting place, like your bedroom, and read a book together.

Another kid-friendly cool-down technique is to utilize a calm down jar – a bottle or jar of glittery liquid that you can shake up and encourage your child to focus on for a few minutes while the glitter settles. You can create your very own by following the directions for our DIY Calm Down Jar for Toddlers. If DIY isn’t your thing, you can also utilize a snow globe, like this adorable Mickey & Minnie Mouse Waterball.
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4. Offer Two Choices

Instead of automatically delivering a punishment when your child does something wrong, try offering them a couple of choices in how they can proceed. For example if your child is playing with a sibling and they get in a fight over a toy and one ends up hitting the other, instead of automatically punishing the hitter, let them know that hitting is not a nice way to behave and then offer them the choice between apologizing and sharing the toy or going in to another room and doing a different activity. This puts the outcome of the situation in the child’s court with you as their teammate.

5. Hug it Out

While it may seem completely counterintuitive to give a child who is misbehaving a hug, showing them affection is a great way to demonstrate good behavior. And, often times reconnecting with you and feeling your love is all a child (particularly young ones) need to get back on the right behavioral track.

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6. Distract & Redirect

Many times when a child misbehaves, it is directly related to their environment. At the first signs of trouble, distract your child and redirect them somewhere new. Get outside for some fresh air, put on some fun music and dance around, or go get a snack. Sometimes a simple change like that can prevent an epic meltdown or power struggle from happening.

7. Strive for Prevention

One of the best things you can do to avoid having to take any disciplinary action is to anticipate problems before they exist! Consider how you can avoid the triggers that lead your child misbehave so that you don’t even have to get to the punishment stage. Do they act out when they are overly tired or hungry? Make sure they are getting plenty of rest and snacks. Do they act out when they are bored? Maybe that is your sign to plan more organized activities to keep them busy. Focus on learning your child’s cues and figure out when the trouble usually occurs so that you can work towards preventing it from ever happening in the first place.

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Photo Credit: Dreams To Do, Building Our Story



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Ariel is a working mom of two (expecting baby #3 next July!) who is married to her high school sweetheart. When she isn’t at the office or playing with her young kiddos, you can find her writing on her personal blog, Dreams To Do. Ariel is a lover of inspirational words, photography, coffee, reality TV, and of course, her family. You can connect with Ariel on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. As a mom of a toddler in the midst of pregnancy and a clinical social worker, I LOVE this list of parenting techniques. I do feel however that Time Outs can be quite useful and a learning experience. The article implies what might be a misuse of “time outs” which can lead to that feeling of banishment and isolation. If used properly they can be effective in learning from mistakes-because that is an opportunity for the parent to teach. Each of these 7 suggestions can and should be used in everyday parenting and as a precursor to utilizing a time out. All of that being said, you have to find what works for your child’s personality. We don’t all learn the same, so one discipline technique won’t work for every child.

  2. I completely agree, Stephanie! Parents need to find what works best for them and their children – there is no one perfectly correct method for raising a child. On another note, I am also in the midst of pregnancy and raising a toddler. It is not for the faint of heart! 🙂

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