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Time Out Alternatives for Toddlers

Time Outs are a great strategy for many parents of toddlers.  When children are beginning to learn all about actions and consequences, giving them a time away after a bad behavior is a good way to stress this connection.

Time Out Alternatives for Toddlers
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For some children, however, a time out does not work particularly well.  When a child breaks a rule or demonstrates a poor behavior choice, parents often send them to a quiet spot away from the rest of the family, like a certain chair, their room, a step, or some other spot where they can take a few minutes away and regroup.  While this sounds like a great idea, what do you do about the child who refuses to take their consequence? These episodes can often become the source of a power struggle for children who refuse to sit for the allotted period.  There are also children who could care less about having to take a time out, and for them, this is not a productive strategy to use either.

If times outs are not working for you, or if you are looking for alternatives to time outs, then consider some other possibilities.

Make a Plan

If your child is old enough to draw a very basic picture, then you can try making a plan for action with them.  When there is a behavior that needs correction, sit with them and talk about what happened.  Have them draw a picture of what happened.  Talk with them about what you expect and how the situation could have been better handled and then have them draw another picture about how they could handle the situation better the next time it occurs.

Give Yourself a Time Out

Instead of sending the child away, instead try the opposite tactic.  Tell the child that you are upset right now and that you do not want to get angry so instead you are going to take a break for a few minutes.  Modeling self-control like this is an excellent example to set for your children, and also keeps a situation from blowing up.  This is what you ultimately want your child to be able to do for themselves:  get upset and find a calm way to handle their impulses.

Privilege Loss

If time outs have no effect on your child’s behavior, then a different approach is definitely in order.  Instead, try taking away a privilege that matters to them.  Tell them that if they hit their sister again, say bad words again, act out at the store again, etc. that they will lose a special toy for a predetermined amount of time, or lose a play date that they have been looking forward to.  The important thing with this approach is to follow through with what you tell your child.  They will quickly learn that they can get away with these behaviors if you are not consistent in handing out the consequences.

Positive Reinforcement

For many children, the absolute best way to gain their cooperation is through the use of positive reinforcement.  Instead of punishing them when they do something wrong, reward them for doing the right thing.  Rewards do not mean things like stickers or toys, but praise.  When you see your child using desired behavior or making good choices, reward them by telling them “I like the way you waited until I was off the phone to talk to me”.  This positive approach is just the key for a lot of young children, and will often keep bad behaviors from even occurring.

The main thing to remember with any type of behavior program you will use with your toddler is consistency.  If you threaten them with a consequence and do not follow through time and time again, they will begin to see these as empty threats and they can serve to make behaviors even worse!