Discipline Strategies to Try Instead of Time-out

toddler mom

My son recently became a toddler, and with toddlerhood comes the need and want for more independence. He is learning to walk and explore the world around him. He loves to climb, pull open every drawer, and pull everything off the bookshelf. We have babyproofed our apartment well for the most part.

However, my son is always surprising me with the things he’s able to get into. Telling him “no” has become a sort of game to him. Right before he does something he knows he isn’t supposed to, he breaks out in a little grin, peeks back at me, and then says, “no no no” all while doing said forbidden action. While at the playground, the temper tantrums have started when it’s time to leave (albeit mild ones at this point). My husband and I are struggling with how to discipline him at this age since he’s so young and doesn’t really understand the concept. We want to make sure he understands the importance of following our directions, especially for his safety both inside and outside of the house.

Time-out is the most popular method of discipline in our culture since the days of spanking have faded away. It is seen as a non-violent method of teaching your child that her actions have consequences, and she must spend some time thinking about what she has done wrong. More recently, research has come out such as this one which cause me to second-guess the time-out method for fear that isolating my child may do more harm than good. In addition, time-out may also be completely ineffective in terms of changing behavior and building problem-solving skills.

After doing a little research, I think going forward; I will try some of these alternative methods of discipline:

Time-In

Instead of isolating your child with a time-out, the time-in method practices sitting with your child rather than leaving them alone. This method preaches comforting the child, especially younger children. It’s a time to calm down, discuss his feelings as well as yours, and reflect on the behavior. In this way, you build your connection, communication, and problem solving skills. You can practice calming techniques as well as come up with alternative behavior that’s more appropriate for certain situations. Some families have a special place in their home dedicated to time-in that’s set up to calm and comfort the child.

Redirection

While my toddler can understand a lot of what I say to him, he cannot sit and have a full conversation with me about his behavior. With children this young, I find that redirection is often useful. When my son continuously climbs on top of the coffee table to sit, or opens my china cabinet, I remind him that those actions aren’t safe, and I give him an acceptable alternative to play with. For example, “Climbing on the coffee table isn’t safe, but we can go outside to the playground and you can climb there.” Of course, it isn’t always manageable to drop everything and go to the playground, so I may redirect him with a book to read together, music and dancing, or an interesting toy. When all else fails, more than likely he is just extremely tired, and I redirect with bath and bed time.

Acknowledge Feelings

Many times, a child just wants to be heard. They want to feel that their opinion is valid–even if you don’t agree with it. It could be as simple as saying something like, “I know you are having a great time at the playground and you don’t want to leave. We will come back tomorrow, but we will also have fun at home before dinnertime.” Knowing that you understand her can help to calm his behavior. Also, asking her questions to find out why he is behaving a certain way could be helpful. He might be tired, hungry, feeling lonely or left out, or he may just not realize what he’s doing is wrong.

Give Choices

It’s difficult to just say NO all the time, and I find that it doesn’t really change much in the way of behavior. By giving a child alternative choices to make, it helps them to feel that they still have some independence and control, but they also learn boundaries and are choosing something that is acceptable and safe. Similar to redirection, you could say something like, “I know you want to run in the street, but I’m afraid you will get hit by a car. You could run on the sidewalk or you could go for a ride in the stroller. Which would you like to do?” This way the child feels empowered by having made his/her own appropriate decision.

Read a Story

Reading a story with characters who make mistakes and learn how to make better choices can help a child understand and improve the situation he is dealing with himself. The child may be able to relate to a character going through similar emotions, and it may be helpful for him to understand alternative ways of dealing with those emotions.

Set Expectations

I coach soccer for children ages 2-5, and I was completely floored on my first day at the short attention spans and the way some of them acted out toward the end when they were tired. I wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. I found that by setting expectations in advance, I was able to nip some of those negative behaviors in the bud before they even started. By letting them know the plan for the next 45 minutes and the behavior that I was looking for, most of them ended up improving tenfold compared to the week before. As a parent, I plan to implement that strategy before most of my outings with our son. Whether it be the grocery store, a restaurant, or the park, I think by telling him the plan and what I expect from him in advance, I may be able to prevent the negative behaviors from even happening at all.


My son is only 14 months old right now, but I imagine the next few years will be especially tough in terms of discipline and behavior. I’m sure each technique won’t work every single time, but I am hoping that through combining the use of multiple techniques and using positive methods something will click for us. Every child is different, but I believe that by using positive methods, I will be able to discipline my son as well as improve his behavior, communication, and problem solving skills for the future.

What’s your preferred method of disciplining your child?