“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.