Timeouts just do. not. work.
You’ve done your best. You’ve gotten down on his level, kept your cool, and always, always followed through. And… nada. He laughs in the face of your warning and still runs/flops/cries for hours when you corral him to that naughty spot. Sigh.
Switch it up.
We believe in the power of a properly-executed timeout. When done SuperNanny style, it teaches your tot that rules exist for a reason and when they’re broken there will be consequences. This sets boundaries that help nurture your child and make him feel less overwhelmed. Seriously – a kid who holds all the cards subconsciously knows he has no idea what he’s doing and it freaks him the eff out. Cue more meltdowns, tears, frustration, drama… boo.
That being said, there’s the right time for a timeout and for us, it’s only after something physical (read: hitting/kicking/biting). We learned the hard way with three-year-old Alex that timeouts were not one-size-fits-all. One morning when he was on his tenth timeout (TENTH!) the lightbulb finally clicked: we needed some new tricks.
Here are our tips to head-off a potentially timeout-worthy offence before the line’s been crossed:
- Don’t get stuck in an argument – it’ll last forever and be as illogical as she wants it to be. The more you disagree, the more it escalates, the more you’re asking for it. Shut it down as soon as your spidey-sense starts to tingle with a “We could keep disagreeing or we could go build LEGO/make cookies/watch Frozen.” If there’s no time for a fun distraction use a simple “Okay,” and move on.
- When she starts complaining because her craft’s not working, instead of dismissing her with “It’s okay,” or “You’re doing great,” which only makes her more frustrated/volatile/destructive, show her you’re listening with a sympathetic “That sounds tough.” Once she feels supported she’ll calm down and be more open to solutions, at which point you take it to the next level by offering to work together instead of solve her problem. Try “Hmmm. What do you think we could do?” instead of “Go get the tape,” or, worse, “Let me fix it.”
- Empower him to take control of his emotions by asking “Can you stop whining/crying/freaking out or should I leave you alone to continue?”
If the deed’s already done and heading it off is no longer an option, try this instead of dropping the T-bomb:
- Bring him back from the edge with one of these calming techniques. Bubbles and glitter… genius! Thanks for the reco Emma!
- A punishment that fits the crime aka a natural consequence. She’s putting the books back after chucking them off the shelf, she’s cleaning the marker off the furniture (thank goodness it’s washable!) and then losing marker privileges for a day or three, she’s paying you back for lipstick-painting the shower door (even if she has to “pay” with a fave toy because she’s too young for real moolah), and she’s ringing the doorbell to apologize for trampling through a neighbour’s garden. You’ll need to explain/demo/help a toddler but starting early means she’ll know the rules before she can independently right her wrongs, which means less power struggles down the road. And if there’s one thing no one told you about parenting it’s just how many power struggles you’ll have with your three-year-old, so cutting them down even a little bit… awesome.
- Ask him what consequence he thinks he deserves. He might try to get away with an “I have to say sorry,” to which you reply “And what else?” Or, more likely, he’ll offer up suggestions that make Lord Business seem chill. Guess who’s the best parent in the world when you decree his sentence too harsh and take it down a notch?
- Have standard go-to’s for minor infractions. For us that’d be our cleaning jar or a toy timeout – a classic when sibs are bickering because of their shared love of one specific item at the exact same time and yup, we sure do put the beloved BatCave/Death Star/Wii remote on the naughty step.
- Walk away. If your blood’s boiling and no consequence/chore/payment seems punishment enough, tell him you’ll think of something and let him know when you’re less upset. It won’t seem like it bothers him, but he’ll think of little else until you clue him in later… which is probably even more effective than whatever you come up with once you’ve stepped back and calmed down.
If timeouts aren’t working, don’t stress. You can be as creative as you want to teach your monkey that you’re in charge, as long as you’re consistent. Don’t change the rules depending on the day and don’t cave when she’s tantrumming. And don’t forget to give her plenty of love when she’s behaving well!