Discipline for Young Children: 12 Alternatives to Time Outs

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If you have read about the benefits of skipping time out in favor of other ways to guide children but are not sure where to start, here are twelve alternatives to time out  that give parents and children a chance to address choices and situations with the intention to offer guidance while maintaining a positive, respectful and peaceful connection.

These alternatives are mostly geared towards children aged 1 to 6 years but also work well beyond that too.

 1.  Take a break together: The key is to do this together and before things get out of hand. So, if your child is having a difficult time or making unsafe choices like hitting a playmate, find a quiet space to take a break together. Just five minutes of connection, listening to what your child is feeling and talking about more appropriate choice really helps. This is similar to a time in.

2. Second chances: Ever made a mistake and felt so relieved to have a chance at a do-over? Often letting children try again let’s them address the problem or change their behavior. “I can’t let you put glue all over the table, do you want to try this again on paper?”

3.Problem solve together: If there is a problem and your child is acting out of frustration, giving them a chance to talk about their problem and listening to a solution they have can turn thing around for the better.

4. Ask question: Sometimes children do things but we don’t quite get it.  We might assume incorrectly they are doing something “bad” or “naughty” when in fact they are trying to understand how something works. Ask what they are up to with the intent to listen and understand first, then correct them by providing the appropriate outlet or information that is missing.  So “What are you trying to do?” instead of “why in the world…ugh!!! time out!”

5. Read a story: Another great way to help children understand how to make better choices is by reading stories with characters that are making mistakes, having big feelings or needing help to make better choices. Also, reading together can be really positive way to re-connect and direct our attention to our child.

parent tip: no time out

6. Puppets & Play: Young children love to see puppets or dolls come to life to teach positive lessons. “I’m honey bear and oh it looks like you scribbled crayons on the ground, I’m flying to the kitchen to get a sponge for us to clean it up together. Come along!” after cleaning up together “Oh now let’s fetch some paper, will you color me a picnic on the paper? Paper is for coloring with crayons!”

7. Give two choices: Let’s say your child is doing something completely unacceptable  provide them with two alternatives that are safe,respectful and acceptable and let them choose what they will do from there. By giving two choices, the child can keep some control over his decisions while still learning about boundaries.

8. Listen to a Song: Sometimes taking a fun break to release some tension and connect is all that children need to return to making better choices and for us parents to loosen up a bit and let go of some stress. Listen to a song or take a dance break!

9.Go Outside: Changing locations often gives us parents a chance to re-direct behavior to something more appropriate  “I cannot let you scale the book shelf. You CAN climb on the monkey bars. Let’s go outside and practice that instead!”  or “cutting the carpet with the scissors is not acceptable. Let’s go outside and cut some grass.”

10. Breathe: A big deep breathe for both parents and children can really help us calm down and look at what is going on with a new perspective.  Take a big “lions” breath to get out frustrations or short and quick “bunny” breaths to feel calm and re-energized.

11. Draw a picture: A wonderful way for children to talk about mistakes is to make a picture of what they did or could have done differently. It’s a low key way to open a window for talking to each other about making better choices.

12. Chill-Out Space: For a time out to work it needs to be something that helps everyone calm down,  not something that makes children frightened or scared. A chill-out space is an area where children can go sit and think, tinker with some quiet toys, have some space alone until they feel ready to talk or return to being with others.  Using the chill out space should be offered as a choice and not a command. Read more about chill-out spaces and how to set one up.

Every child and every situation is unique so these tools are not one size fits all but rather a list of ideas to lean on to expand your parenting tool box. I find that striving to use pro-active tools like this to respond and to guide children towards better choices works far more positively than having to react when things have gotten out of hand.

Relevant Resources:

Building Blocks for Positive Parenting

The disadvantages of time out. 

Positive Time Out

Whatever You Do, Just Don’t Call it Time Out, Right?

Which of these tools do you already use or think will work for you?

Peace and Be well,

Ariadne

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

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3 thoughts on “Discipline for Young Children: 12 Alternatives to Time Outs

  1. ah yea… these are great suggestions. we use a few, like having a cool down place for each of us. you’ve got some others that we’ll try in the future. i’m featuring this at the sunday parenting party.

  2. This is great! My wife and I were having a difficult time this morning with our nearly 3 year old making some choices that we weren’t proud of, and I think these will be really helpful in having us all learn together. Thanks for putting this together! Now, to set up a chill out space somewhere :)

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