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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,

Ariadne

Parents Can Always Choose an Alternative to Spanking

Our children will make mistakes, they may make bad choices. We probably will too…that is ok, we don’t have to be perfect BUT we can strive and decide to make better choices! We can lead the way, we can ask for forgiveness, forgive, look for alternatives, provide solutions and most of all, we can be the safe and trusted placed our children need us to be. Continue Reading