Why Timeouts Make Tantrums And Power Struggles Worse (And What To Do Instead)

Why Timeouts Make Tantrums And Power Struggles Worse (And What To Do Instead)

A parent wrote in recently asking why timeouts are making her daughters behavior worse instead of better. She shares:

I have a 3 year old daughter that throws the biggest tantrums whenever i simply say no or disagree with her. She has picked up negative behaviors to calm herself. Such as slamming doors and using aggression. I’ve been trying to get to her stop via time outs which leads her to crying so much they never actually start. Talking or taking away privileges, being strict…it only makes it worse. I’m wondering if im missing something she cant express.  Any advice? 

Time outs used to be highly recommended for the toddler years as a way to discipline bad behavior. Placing a toddler in the corner or on a chair and letting them reflect on their behavior was thought to help them stop behaviors like hitting, crying, whining and throwing mashed peas onto the wall. To make timeout a bit more positive, recommendations of hugging kids after time out or telling them something nice were added into the mix.

The emotional rejection that is part of timeouts

Author of No Drama Discipline and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Daniel Siegel explains that even when followed up with loving hugs and kind words, children still experience time out as a rejection.

When you use time out because your child has made a mistake or is feeling emotionally overwhelmed, Siegel explains that essentially the message your child gets is that you will force them to handle any difficult feelings and mistakes on their own.

Little kids need help when they behave in unhelpful ways.

timeouts for toddlers alternatives that work

Placing a toddler in the corner or on a naughty chair is unlikely to prevent misbehavior from showing up again.  In fact, your toddler is more likely to repeat a misbehavior after time out. Time out can also leave your toddler feeling upset, confused and anxious.

Three Alternatives to Timeouts that Promote Learning and Better Behavior

1. Time In: This is almost like a time out, with one important change. You stay with your child in time in and support them until they have calmed down.

A time in can be customized to your child’s temperament and your needs, where you can sit together on the couch, simply take a moment to hug and talk or walk away from a difficult situation to a different place all together.

The goal of a time in is to help your child feel safe, calm and ready to listen to your guidance.  A time in may take longer then a time out but is much more likely to help your child feel truly ready to choose a better, more helpful behavior. If you were having a power struggle or argument, a time in is a way to reset everyone’s mood so you can start your discussion over in a calm way.

timeouts alternatives for child

2. Take time to Teach: Young children often choose behaviors that are unwanted because they don’t know yet what you expect or what is acceptable.

It’s important to take time to show your child was they CAN do, instead of only stopping them when they are doing something wrong. Let’s say your toddler is hitting the dog. Getting down to your toddler’s level and demonstrating how to properly pet and brush the dog gives your toddler important information to develop a new skill.  It’s not enough to just say “don’t hit the dog”.

Jane Nelsen D. Ed., author of the Positive Discipline series says it’s vital to take time for training and modeling.

Investing time to teach your child what you expect, for example how to calm down or how to politely disagree with you takes an initial time investment.

Here is some good news:

Any time you invest into teaching skills will help your child better handle the many challenges they will face as they grow.

alternative to timeouts

3. Second Chances: A little “do over” is a great way to give your child an opportunity to stop any unhelpful behavior and start over with a better choice. Second chances work very well when you take the time to first stop the unhelpful behavior and only then ask your child to try again.

If your child isn’t sure what a better choice is, take time to teach first. If your child is too overwhelmed or upset, start with time in, then take time to teach and lastly follow up with a second chance to start over.

Your effectiveness as parents is in direct proportion to the strength of the bond you have with your child. – Pam Leo

positive alternatives to time out to help with toddler discipline and behavior

Learning focused and positive strategies are not rewards for misbehavior.

These alternatives to timeouts allow you to build a very important special bond with your child. When you pause and help your child feel better you show your child they can trust you when they need you most.

Children don’t want to behave badly or upset you. In fact the more connected your child feels to you, the more likely they are to accept your guidance and coaching towards better behavior.

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

3 Responses to Why Timeouts Make Tantrums And Power Struggles Worse (And What To Do Instead)

  1. My mother’s time-outs only created a really bad case of self-pity in me–especially when she would not listen to my side of the story–she just called me “Alibi Ike”. And if I cried, she would demand that I stop crying–which just does not happen; I couldn’t stop if I tried. And this went on up through jr hi age, and it seriously damaged our relationship. I never did it with my kids, and we are still close friends, and they are all successful adults.

  2. All of this makes perfect sense and is in line with some things I’ve already tried. My daughter when she gets upset though wants nothing to do with me. If I try to hug or touch her it gets worse. We cuddle and snuggle all the time but once her switch gets flipped she runs from me and screams “no mommy!” If I were to try to holder her then, it would just get worse. How do I help her through her emotions when I turn into the last thing on the planet she wants? She’ll be 3 in two months and is slightly behind in language skills so communication with her also makes it difficult.

    • Hi Ashleigh,
      Some children would rather not be touched when they have flipped over to anger or frustration. It’s alright to give your child some space and time to calm down. How you communicate to your child (with your facial expression and calm body movements) can make a big difference to how they perceive the interaction with you. Staying close by and occasionally checking in with your child using kind and calm words can help. Once their tears subside a bit then you can try to re-connect and move forward. Another thing you can consider is working on building an emotional vocabulary in a playful way (so not during the tantrum) so as your daughter grows you will be giving her resources to draw on when she needs it. Check out this post on emotional intelligence.

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