Are you wondering what to do instead of time-out? You are not alone.
Generations of parents have depended on time-outs as their go-to discipline method, particularly in the early childhood years.
With that knowledge comes a push for positive parenting tools to replace discipline tactics that evoke feelings of isolation and shame.
This post will:
- Challenge parents and caregivers to consider the negative impact of time-outs
- Highlight three key time-out alternatives that align with positive discipline
What’s wrong with time-outs?
Many research studies show time-outs can “work!” So what is the problem with time-outs?
Time-outs in reality do not always reflect the research.
In real-world time-outs, parents often say something l like, “Go to your room and think about what you did! And don’t come out until I tell you.” Some may even add an, “I can’t even look at you right now.”
Rather than genuinely reflecting, most children will spend this time in isolation feeling resentful and thinking about how unfair they perceive the situation.
What makes a time-out “work” is the repair and connection that occurs after the isolation. This is the component often missing in real life.
Instead, many parents conclude time-outs with forced apologies, further punishments, or telling children precisely how to solve the problem.
In positive parenting, we focus heavily on connection and collaboration. We also work to remove isolation and shame from the equation!
Do time-outs work for toddlers?
Punishments, and even healthier forms of consequences, fall flat, particularly in the early childhood years.
Toddlers are not yet fully capable of understanding and applying the idea of cause and effect. As a result, being sent to their rooms will not curb future behavior.
What time-outs does is provide parents with a much-needed break. Time to regroup. Calm down. Think out the next best step.
Please rest assured these are all valid needs that are also fulfilled through a positive parenting time-in (more on that later!).
Is time-out inappropriate?
Fostering meaningful connection and collaboration between parent and child is vital to effective positive parenting. The on-the-fly, shame-evoking isolation of a typical time-out threatens that partnership.
As a certified positive discipline parent educator, I strongly encourage parents to consider alternatives to traditional time-outs.
Is there such thing as “gentle parenting time-outs?”
The Positive Discipline model, developed by Dr. Jane Nelson, champions positive time-outs, characterized by four components. Positive time-outs:
- Aim to teach kids healthy coping skills
- Empower children to take ownership of their own calming space
- Are planned out in advance
- Require collaboration between parent and child to solve problems
Positive time-outs look nothing like traditional time-outs! Consequently, we prefer the term time-in here at Such a Little While.
What is a time-in?
Simply put, time-ins follow the positive parenting principle of “connect, then correct.” Parents model how to cope with big emotions and provide a safe space for their children’s feelings.
Time-ins typically conclude with carefully constructed conversations about limits and boundaries (not lectures!) and collaborative problem-solving.
How to Discipline without Time-outs: 3 Positive Parenting Tools
Loving parents use time-outs with the best of intentions. However, time-outs can be a stressful, isolating experience and fail to teach kids essential problem-solving skills.
Fortunately, countless authoritative, positive parenting alternatives for discipline align with the time-in method.
We will discuss three tools to turn power struggles into teachable moments.
#1: Create a designated calming space with your child
Designated calming spaces, or “calm down corners” are on the rise across homes and classrooms, and rightfully so.
Calming spaces allow families to take the time they need to cool off without shame and negativity. It is a place to process big emotions before revisiting and discussing the core issue.
A change of location helps diffuse difficult moments with dysregulated children. Furthermore, when introduced appropriately, calming spaces help teach and reinforce healthy, age-appropriate coping skills.
Why many calm-down corners fail
Many parents are misinformed about the premise behind calming spaces. Consequently, they create calm down corners that mirror a traditional time-out.
The key is to empower your child to take ownership over the space (e.g., have them pick a name for it and help select the materials and activities).
You will also want to teach them how to use the space in advance when things are calm.
Using a calming corner as a threat or punishment will not help your child buy into the process.
How to get started with a calm-down corner
Creating an effective calming space your child wants to use might feel overwhelming, but it does not have to be!
As a certified positive parent educator and former professional school counselor, I’m here to hold your hand, step by step, in making time-outs a thing of the past.
I developed Such a Little While’s best-seller, The CALM Collection, which has taken families from dreaded power struggles to peaceful problem-solving.
Unlike traditional parenting books, Such a Little While’s CALM Collection supports the entire family in mastering new skills!
What will my family gain from The CALM Collection?
The CALM Collection includes two positive parenting digital guides and well over 60 printable social/emotional learning activities for kids. Your family will gain:
- A developmentally appropriate emotional vocabulary
- Healthy coping skills
- Increased self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and self-regulation
- Collaborative partnerships in the problem-solving process
#2: Choose a connection-based activity
The childhood brain lacks self-awareness, emotional regulation, and impulse control. As a result, we can expect young kids to have tantrums and meltdowns, or act defiantly when emotions run high (even when they “know better”).
Staying calm in these moments is hard, but tremendously helpful for our children’s social/emotional growth.
Consider: Your child doesn’t get what they want so they yell, scream, and stomp. You lose it and yell at them to stop their behavior. You’ve now reinforced through your actions that yelling is an appropriate and expected response to anger.
Instead, positive parents strive for connection in tough moments.
Connecting with our kids over a simple activity or hug can make the world of difference in modeling and teaching healthy coping skills.
Furthermore, it lays the foundation for effective collaboration and problem-solving by first helping both parents and kids reach a state of calm.
Rather than demanding that your child do an activity with you, invite them through your actions:
- Open a book and begin reading. Gently tap the open spot on the couch next to you.
- Find a seat on the floor at your child’s level and begin building with blocks.
- Put the leash on the dog and set your child’s sneakers out as you put on your own.
This open invitation for connection is an excellent time-out alternative for toddlers who require co-regulation of emotions and cannot yet take ownership of a calming corner.
#3: Use family meetings to address big issues
Family meetings are one of my favorite positive discipline tools to transform conflict into positive family moments!
When your child disagrees with you or pushes back on a boundary, avoid an immediate power stuggle. Instead, empower them to write down the issue on your next family meeting agenda.
In Dr. Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline framework, families are encouraged to use regular meetings as a time to connect and collaborate to solve key issues.
Family meetings allow you to temporarily place hot-button issues on the “back burner.” This provides much-needed time to cool off and reflect.
Futhermore, children receive a chance to talk, share their concerns, and feel heard/validated. By having a direct hand in developing a plan of action, they are more likely to change their future behavior.
And if they do not, ask, “What was our family meeting agreement about _______?” instead of yelling, nagging, or making demands.
Around the age of four, your child may be ready to introduce family meetings.
Begin every meeting with a fun connection-building game or activity so your kids look forward to this time together! You can learn more about family meetings here.
What to do instead of time-out: The last thing you need to know
It takes courage to step away from the familiarity of time-outs and try something new.
Chances are you were once isolated behind a door with your big emotions. Yet you are now willing to work hard to open the door to tough conversations with your child.
You are a HERO.
You’ve got this!