Cooperation Begins with Trust

Tag Archives: terrible twos

Toddlers making Trouble:  11 Helpful Alternatives to Timeout

Toddlers making Trouble: 11 Helpful Alternatives to Timeout

Positive and Effective Alternatives to Timeout for Young Children

Toddlers don’t really mean to be making trouble. They spend their days trying to understand and discover their environment, their place and space in the world. They are growing and learning how to coordinate their bodies and regulate impulses. Just about every day, toddlers make mistakes. Create messes.  Do things that are sometimes hard for parents to understand.

Then you intervene. Distract….Say “don’t” and “NO!” but it seems to make no difference at all….

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to best handle the messy, sassy, misbehaving toddler situations.

If you are too stern,  your toddler might crumble into a tantrum.  If you are too lenient you risk being permissive and not teaching your tot what’s expected. So you try a time out, only your not sure these are working either.

Time outs used to be highly recommended for the toddler years. Not any more! 

Even if you follow up time out with loving hugs,  what you are teaching your child to think is that if they make a mistake or if they feel emotionally overwhelmed, you will force them to handle that on their own. This is experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection, explains author of No Drama Discipline and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Daniel Siegel.

alternatives to timeouts toddlers

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.

Here are guidance based and effective alternatives to time out that can help your toddler thrive:

1. Meet your toddlers needs: If you notice your little one is getting restless or cranky it can be useful to run a mental check list; are they hungry, tired, bored, in need of a diaper change? Meeting that immediate need will likely bring everyone back into harmony.

2. Provide a toddler friendly environment: If you find yourself repeatedly asking your child not to touch the ceramic kitty, not touch the glass vase on the floor and not climb the plant stand, think about stowing it away temporarily or placing it out of reach. For both tot and parents being able to navigate a child friendly home takes away hours of hassle and potential struggles.

3. Create and keep a routine: Toddlers love repetition. A predictable day helps toddlers know what to expect and learn the family expectations. Routines also help toddlers feel more in control of their world. Allowing some flexibility in the routine can also be helpful, for example if you usually dress and then brush teeth but your toddler doesn’t seem to want to get dressed one morning, why not offer the option to brush and then dress.

4. Hugs & Cuddles: Often a toddler will calm down and refocus her attention with a gentle touch, hug and when you show a genuine smile. This positive attention tells a toddler that you care about them.

5. Change locations: Maybe the playroom has become overwhelming, maybe the livingroom is boring, sometimes moving locations just gives a toddler and parent a new perspective and a chance to engage in a different activity.

6. Read together: Books with gentle messages like “Hands Are Not For Hitting” can be great ways for toddlers to learn acceptable social skills. Books about feelings like “The Pigeon Has Feelings Too” and “Lots of Feelings” can help toddlers start to name and recognize feelings which helps further develop emotional intelligence.

7. Walk and then Talk: If you observe your child ready to strike at another child or ready to pull all the books down from a shelf, instead of telling or yelling for toddler to stop, walk over, (ok you might need to run) look the toddler in the eye and offer them something else to play with. Being pro-active and preventing strikes and bites is vastly more effective than punishing in reaction to something that could have been prevented.

8. Whisper: If your toddler is playing with their voice and exploring sounds and it has become just too loud for you, whispering is a great way to get your toddlers attention. Children often are so surprised and curious they might even follow you in whispering.

9. Special Time: Having a special time in the day to cuddle and play with your toddler is a powerful way to keep a strong connection with your tot. Placing cellphones away, and turning off the tv and computer and focusing just on the one on one time for just ten to fifteen minutes a day means the world to a child. The more connected a toddler feels the more likely she will be to listen and cooperate throughout the day.

10. Demonstrate: Show your tot where or how your family likes to do things. Lets say your toddler has thrown chunks of play-dough onto the carpet.  This isn’t something you would like to see happening at your house. Start cleaning up and invite your child to help. Then play with your tot, using the play-dough and demonstrate where to play with it. Reinforcing with simple words “play-dough stays on the table” helps toddlers remember what is expected.

11. Support curiosity: Often toddlers tinker with household items to figure out what they are and how they work but it leads to thing being broken. Having some safe household items for your tot to explore in a busy basket or designated toddler drawer like an old telephone, a kitchen colander, measuring cups, can safely satisfy this curiosity. Rotate the items found in these locations to keep it interesting.

By implementing these alternatives you are building a very special bond with your child – a connection that lasts a life time.

Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting believes that your effectiveness as parents is in direct proportion to the strength of the bond you have with your child. “Securing and maintaining that bond is our primary work as parents and is the key to optimal human development”.

If it feels like your toddler is taking over the house or over your life because of these adjustments, take heart, much like the need for safety gates and outlet covers this phase is temporary and fleeting. You can learn how to focus on your connection with your child and how to transform defiance into cooperation by joining the Positive parenting in the First Five Years online class. Enrollment is open and I hope to see you in the classroom!

“Since taking this course we haven’t been late for preschool or struggled with getting out the door even once – I’ve learned so much that is practical and effective – this course was just what I needed to be a more confident mom!” 

Peace & Be Well,


***** Related Reading : Twelve Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperative Children written by the founder of Positive Parenting Connection. Now available on Amazon (Print / Kindle)  ****

Books mentioned:
Lots of Feelings by Shelley Rotner
The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! by Mo Willems
Hands Are Not for Hitting by Martine Agassi Ph.D., Marieka Heinlen

Image: Tom Clare /

terrible toddler toddler discipline time out toddler help with toddler behaviour