Discipline for Young Children: 12 Alternatives to Time Outs

Discipline for Young Children: 12 Alternatives to Time Outs

Every child act outs and misbehaves at some time as they grow. How you discipline your child can have a lasting impact on their well-being.

These twelve alternatives to time out give you specific ways to change unwanted behaviors and challenging situations in a positive way.

There are many benefits of skipping time out and using positive discipline alternatives with young children.

Each alternative to time out in this guide is aimed at providing children discipline that is respectful and developmentally appropriate.

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 questions:

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.

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. You can use puppets to teach your child what you expect.

Here is an example of what they could sound like:

“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.

Let your child choose what they will based on the choices you presented.

By giving two choices, your child can keep some control over his decisions while still learning about boundaries and expectations.

child needs time out positive alternatives that help

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.

Redirecting your child’s behavior might sound like this:

“I cannot let you scale the book shelf. You CAN climb on the monkey bars. Let’s go outside and practice that instead!”  

“Cutting the carpet with the scissors is not acceptable. Let’s go outside and cut some grass.”

10. Pause & Breathe:

Is your child acting out or pushing your buttons?

Press the pause button and take a big deep breath. Changes in your breathing pattern can directly affect your brain and how you think and react. Pausing and taking a breath can actually keep you from yelling and being too reactive.

In fact, both you and your child can benefit from taking a calming pause and practicing some breathing excercises.

Take a big “lions” breath to get out frustrations or short and quick “bunny” breaths to feel calm and re-energized.

Once you have taken a breathing break you can explain your expectations and encourage your child to make a better choice.

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. Using a calming corner or chill out space has direct benefits on your child’s emotional regulation.

Misbehavior is often caused by emotional overload. A chill out space can be a fantastic tool in supporting your child as they learn how to manage their emotions.

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.

Striving to use pro-active tools like the ones in this guide tend to work well and encourage better behavior than having to react when things have gotten out of hand.

Related Reading

Patience and Warmth are better at stopping misbehavior than yelling and punishments.

Additional 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?

Peace and Be well,


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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 Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

12 Responses to 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 🙂

  3. Great suggestions, thank you. We have been using my sons bedroom as a chill out space for sometime now (he turned 3 last week). We have used it as both choice and command, from now on I will try to always offer it as a choice. My son chooses how long he stays in there for and comes out when he is ready, Nearly every time he comes out calmer and happier. while he is in there he plays or reads books. Sometimes I might have been getting worked up and I find that by the time he comes out I too have calmed down and we get along a lot better. Sometimes if he is getting worked up he takes himself in there without me even mentioning it. Sometimes I will say to him that he can come out when he is ready to talk nicely to me and he will come out and apologize and want to give me a cuddle.

  4. Hi Kristy,
    So glad you find the suggestions helpful. I have had the same experience as you, when my children need to take a little calming break, if I choose to calm myself as well things go much better for all of us. This is also great modeling to our children as they see first hand the value of taking a short break, and the message in the end doesn’t get lost, instead they can hear it better, and we can communicate calmly! thank you so much for sharing that.

  5. […] Esse é o caso deste texto que traduzi, escrito pela Ariadne Brill, mãe de três filhos. Ela é adepta a práticas responsivas e pacíficas de criação de filho, escreve para o site Positive Parenting Connection, além de ser educadora de disciplina positiva. O texto original pode ser encontrado aqui. […]

  6. […] Esse é o caso deste texto que traduzi, escrito pela Ariadne Brill, mãe de três filhos. Ela é adepta a práticas responsivas e pacíficas de criação de filho, escreve para o site Positive Parenting Connection, além de ser educadora de disciplina positiva. O texto original pode ser encontrado aqui. […]

  7. So I think I parent somewhere outside of but close to positive parenting. I already use this list naturally but I also use time outs- time outs are usually a result of months and months of telling my son we don’t do something and him simply not wanting to stop. Thats what I would like to see addressed because at the end of the day no matter how positive you are with your kids serious behaviors need to be addressed and kids are not always on the same page regardless of how many times you explain the situation or how understanding you are. Adults are the same- there are many things i understand fully and consequences keep me in check because I don’t always want to be a perfect person. An example of this is speeding. I cant afford a ticket so I don’t speed but without that consequence I probably would from time to time. This is the area of the positive parenting I am struggling to find answers to how to deal with. How do you deal with behaviors that your child doesn’t really care about your approval of. I remember feeling like this myself as a child with manny things. My mom explained cleaning my room, why it needed to be done, how she felt when it wasn’t, ect ect ect and in the end I just didn’t want to do it, and so I didn’t. What do you do when this behaviors dumping out powder no matter how many activities you provide, painting with toothpaste, pouring kibble into the animals clean water bowls. I looked for sources like boredom and increased sensory play but he goes back to the same few things- and we are poor so i feel these things. We also struggle with him biting and hitting. When he was a baby he used to hit and laugh- i think it was a cause and effect thing, didn’t seem aggressive but that’s progressed into aggression with his age and is just getting worse. He says sorry after now- and its genuine, he needs no prompting but the actual aggression just gets more and more out of control. The only thing that seems to curb it is time outs (that I follow with a talk). IDK I know people say its bad but what am I supposed to think when I try the positive parenting thing for more than a solid 8 months and get no results but gain them with time outs. I wish I could make this parenting style work with my child but its just not.

  8. I have a 3yr old son that is getting to be out of control and I am currently seeking help for me and him both. He has a serious problem with yelling all the time and being violent. I have found that anything with sugar or caffeine in it greatly intensifies the negative violent behavior so my son gets so sweets or anything with caffeine. His snacks consist of things like crackers and cheese and lots of fresh fruits and veggies. I am also learning ways to channel his negative energies into good things like drawing pictures and singing songs and talking with him. I have found that the best way to get his attention while he is yelling and acting a fool and not listening is to snap my fingers or clap my hands, say his name and make him look at me while I am speaking to him. This not only makes him stop yelling but it also makes it to where I can speak to him and he hears me without me having to raise my voice making for a more peaceful situation. I also find that when my son is having a bad day, time-out is not ideal for him. Instead, we sit down and watch a movie on his tablet and that seems to calm him a little bit. My son is very intelligent but he is also very temperamental so I have to constantly challenge him with new things to do or he gets bored and really starts to act out. I have been doing a lot of research on how to help my son but any tips or advice would be appreciated.

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