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Home » Toddler

Toddler Discipline: Alternatives to Time-Out

Submitted by on Sunday, 11 January 200912 Comments

I came across a great article on the internet today about toddler discipline and alternative methods to achieving good behaviour in toddlers beyond the old “time-out” method.  Not to say the “time-out” method isn’t good…it definitely has its place and can work, but it can get “old” or lose its effectiveness with over-use.

These alternatives help expand your toddler discipline tool kit.  What I liked about them is that they are realistic, goal-oriented, and have a positive focus.

bootsI know you’re busy, so I’ll summarize them for you here:

Point out the goodness:

When your toddler does something good, tell her!  Give her recognition for her good behaviours.  If your toddler cleans up after playing with his toys, tell him he did a great job cleaning up and that you appreciate it.  He’ll be much more likely to do it again.

Be positive:

Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement or punishment.  Small rewards are more effective than big rewards.  Giving your child a special meal after he behaved really well the whole day, for example, is more effective than giving your child a bicycle at Christmas because he behaved well for the whole year.  Its an extreme example, but you get the point.

Also, if you use praise as positive reinforcement, make your praise specific.  (for example: “Wow, you built a really nice pillow fort!” is better than “You played nicely”).

Use natural consequences when safe and appropriate:

We constantly have had to tell Smarty Pants to leave our cat alone when she is in her cat house.  The other day, he was bugging her while she was in there, and whoosh, she lashed out and scratched him.  It was a small scratch, and it was a natural consequence of his actions.  Since then, he has been very careful not to bug out cat when she is snoozing in her personal space.

If your toddler purposely rips the head off of her doll, don’t just go fork over some cash for a new one.  She won’t learn that breaking her toys has consequences, and you might end up with a pile of doll heads in the corner of her room.  Use natural consequences to stop the beheadings.  When she breaks her doll, it doesn’t magically get replaced, and she can’t play with it anymore.

Don’t expect perfection, and set specific goals:

You’ll stress your toddler out if you try to get her to behave perfectly, and it is unrealistic to expect her to.  Know what your behaviour goals are, and make them realistic.  Then work toward those goals.

This is a really logical point, but it is one that many parents ignore.  When a pilot flies a plane, he knows his destination.  When we are parenting, do we know our destination (behavioural goal) and how we are going to get there (methods for achieving the behavioural goal)?  If you don’t take the time to think about this, you will find yourself being random and inconsistent.  Additionally, you may find yourself having too many, or unrealistic, expectations.

Present Alternatives:

Worse:  “For the 20th time, don’t throw the ball inside, dammit!”  Better:  “Wouldn’t it be more fun to go in the backyard and throw that ball around?”

Remember that discipline is not the same as punishment, and set a good example:

Punishment equates to negative outcomes for negative behaviours.  Discipline is about teaching.  Teach your toddler the behaviours that you would like to see.  One of the most effective ways to teach your toddler is by setting a good example.  Do you tell your child not to yell, but yell yourself when you are upset?  This has happened to me, and I am sure it has happened to many of you.  Our children learn from us and mimic us (if you want proof, check out the boots on Smarty Pants in this Jam’s photo), so let’s get them to mimic positive behaviour.

There you have it.  I hope you enjoyed these tips and found them as useful as I did.  Raising toddlers isn’t easy, and having more tools in our arsenal besides the usual “time-out” will make the ride slightly smoother.  As will a nice cold beer ;-)

What do you think?  Have any of these worked for you, or do you have other time-out alternatives?

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  • Those are great suggestions. I always love giving choices, with one option being undesirable, and the other option being correct behavior. So for example…

    Works: “Stop throwing your toy at the TV. Either take it over to the other side of the family room, or you can go to timeout.”

    Doesn’t Work: “Stop throwing the toy at the TV or you’re going to timeout.”

    With that last example, I’m not teaching her a good/desirable alternative. Instead I’m just punishing a negative consequence. Since my daughter’s only 2 years old, she needs help thinking of a constructive alternative.

    Jon @ DadTrek’s last blog post..5 Reasons Dads Should Exercise

  • Head Jammer says:

    @Jon, I really like your example and giving choices like that is a great idea. I also like that you explain what the alternatives are and that you give her the opportunity to make the decision. Great stuff, thanks for sharing!

  • Kevin says:

    “Use natural consequences to stop the beheadings.”

    Great post overall, with some helpful tips. With 3 daughters of my own, I just had to call out the line above as my favorite. Gave me a good laugh. :-)

  • Head Jammer says:

    Hi Kevin, thanks for your comment lol glad you liked it ;-)

  • “Remember that discipline is not the same as punishment.”

    This is a great point. After spending some time helping out in a preschool center, I would have to say that this is one of the most misunderstood concepts to many parents. Somewhere along the line some parents forget to teach the correct behavior, instead they tend to just punish the wrong behavior.
    Tina @ Ride On Toys´s last blog ..The Classic Red Radio Flyer Scooter My ComLuv Profile

  • Head Jammer says:

    @Tina, thanks for your comment, that is very true, good point!

  • Lana says:

    I like these important reminders.
    I also just read an interesting “twist” on the Time-In concept (which in the past I rarely incorporated because doing a Time-In with one child, meant leaving the other child alone).
    It suggested what I’ll call “Time-Together” for the misbehaving child.
    Ex. “Johnny, why don’t you come wash dishes with me for a while” or “Johnny, let’s do some drawing together”.
    Although the Parent in me wants some form of corporal punishment consequence, I have learned from real-life experience that the best solution to a child acting out, is not in fact punishment – it’s the opposite: more time and love.
    This Time-Together method removes the child from the situation, while offering them some one-on-one time.

  • Head Jammer says:

    Thanks Lana, excellent suggestion!

  • Deborah says:

    My daughter just turned 15 months old and I have been looking for the best way(s) to help her be disciplined. I am not convinced that time out is always the best solution. Thanks for these thoughts.

    I enjoyed reading your blog and will keep checking back! Best to you and your family.

    I write about creative ways to develop your baby every day. You can check out some of my ideas at http://www.babydevelopmentnow.com
    Deborah´s last blog ..Hello world!My ComLuv Profile

  • Mollie says:

    Yours are really good suggestions; however, I was hoping to find some alternative consequences to use when things like positive reinforcement won’t work.
    I agree positive reinforcement is more rewarding and works wonders, but what do you do when the child has obviously done something wrong and needs correction? Natural consequences don’t always work (example: if I ask her to tidy her toys and she won’t, the consequences are that the house is untidy, her father will be annoyed — at me, not at her — when he gets home, and potentially she won’t be able to find the toy she wants next time she looks for it; however, none of these consequences is immediate, nor something that she’ll necessarily connect to the fact that she didn’t tidy up when she was supposed to). I don’t want to over-use time-out, and I’ve been told that taking away privileges doesn’t work because they don’t usually associate the lost privilege to the undesired behaviour (i.e. not tidying up has nothing to do with tv, so it’s not really appropriate to take away tv privileges as a consequence for not tidying up)– so I’d love any helpful suggestions of consequences I CAN impose when my daughter doesn’t mind me or does something else she’s not supposed to do. Thanks in advance…?!

  • Head Jammer says:

    Hi Mollie, that is a good question. I agree on not overusing the time out, and that removing privileges does not always work. If something is an ongoing problem, I find that sticker charts work really well. For example, if she doesn’t tidy up her toys on a regular basis, then you can start a sticker chart and give her a sticker every time she tidies up her toys. Then if she doesn’t tidy her toys on a particular day, you can remind her that she won’t get a sticker for that day, as a natural consequence of not tidying up her toys. I find sticker charts work really well… although all kids are different and put different value on stickers, so it might not work for all, but you get the idea… and then eventually tidying up the toys will become a habit and you won’t need the sticker chart any more (hopefully). Good luck!

  • [...] Toddler Discipline: Alternatives to Time-Out | Parenting – The Dad JamJan 11, 2009 … Alternatives to time-out for toddler discipline. Great methods and alternatives to help achieve desired toddler behavior. [...]

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