Toddler Discipline | Time Out

Last week I posted on Instagram (masseya) a picture of Parker sitting in time out. 
Yep.  My 18 month olds sit in time out.  They do quiet well at it these days, but we have come from several months of working out the kinks.  I have a VERY strong willed child (Parker) and a VERY soft-hearted child (Jolie). Two completely different personalities, which often means that we discipline them two completely different ways.  Jolie is heart broken to know that she’s misbehaved, and Parker finds it hilarious and will push every limit she can.. ultimately ending up in time-out.
Jolie goes to time-out once for Parker’s every 10th time.  
In one day. (< okay, sort of exaggerating there.. but you can get my point.)  
Usually Jolie is coming to get Parker out of time out, and most of the time I don’t have the heart to stop the sweetness shared between those two at the moment.
We started out pretty basic with the whole toddler-discipline thing.  Time Out wasn’t an option for my 15 month olds at the time we decided to start enforcing consequences for their behavior because they didn’t understand the concept at all, but they did fully understand what it meant for me to say ‘no’, what it meant to upset her sister, and ultimately what it meant to lose a privilege.  To the 15 month old brain, a ‘privilege’ is whatever she is acting in at that very moment.  It is often Jolie searching to play with a puzzle or toy that Parker is playing with (and vice versa), and she walks right up and takes it right out of her hands (she=Jolie, her=Parker). One thing I had to make sure of was that the consequence came right then and there — I wanted to make sure the discipline was easily associated with the reason behind the reprimand in hopes that she would learn from the experience. 
Sutiation A: Not sharing one toy well with sister. Play time with this toy is over.  Instantly.  No questions asked. 
Situation B: Throwing food.  These two know exactly what it means when one or both throw their food.  I have a hard time simply whisking them out of the high chair and calling it a meal, but often we opt for a short (like 30 seconds, short) time-out.  After they have understood the consequence for their actions, they get to go back and finish eating. No more throwing food (for the day, at least).
Which brings us to Time Out
We introduced TO (time-out) at 15 months with very little success.  Jolie would throw herself on the floor in a fit, Parker made it into a game and would run way very quickly.  BUT- what we did make sure to do at this age was to reiterate that this was time-out, and that it was in the same spot no matter what.  The thing I like about time-out is that it is easily modified- 5-30 seconds is where we started.  When they were 17 1/2 months the TO card clicked over.  Presently, when Parker and Jolie are being naughty, sometimes all it takes is the simple “Do not do that or you will go to time-out.”  
The day they realized what that meant changed my life!
Even still, time-out isn’t perfect and it doesn’t work for every child.  I still get the child that beats the wall in frustration, throws herself on the floor and proceeds to roll around, and then there’s the heartbreaking cry.  But- it works for us, and my girls understand.  For those that have never attempted time-out, it will just have to take some work to get into a routine with disciplining your little with this technique.  Here are a few of my suggestions to make time-out a success:
  1. Choose an appropriate time-out spot. This must be consistent.  Your child will associate that spot with ‘time-out’ and will know what is to be expected when sitting there.  This is why it is not recommended to use the child’s crib or nursery as a time-out spot.  The negative association with time-out and those spots could be bad news for naps and nighttime.  Don’t get me wrong- SO many times I have thought and wanted to just stick a girl in her crib!  Especially in the beginning.. Parker or Jolie (or both!) in their crib and they are forced stay put!  Our spot is underneath the bar in the living room, on the other side of the kitchen.  She is easily placed in my eye’s view, but secluded enough for it to drive the point across.
  2. Act consistently. Again with the consistency.  Give your toddler one warning to stop what she’s doing, and if she doesn’t obey, speak firmly,  and follow through with the time-out. Escorting Parker or Jolie  to her time-out spot is almost as bad as making her sit there.  They already know whats coming before we get there. Someone once told me that counting to three was pointless -that just gives your kid three extra seconds to be bad.  I decided after hearing (and agreeing) that I would do my best to never be the one that counted 1.. 2.. 3.. ONE time, and if after I’ve asked once, that should be all it takes to obey.  Consistency is key. Without it, you’ll send your babe a mixed message, which will confuse and/or encourage them to push your limits to see what she can get away with next time.  Parker is the queen of this!  Clearly, I still need some work on this.
  3. Be flexible. If you’re not at home to utilize the regular ‘time-out’ spot, it can take some extra brain-storming to make time-outs work, but it is definitely possible.  There are a few instances that require immediate time-out no matter where we are: biting, hitting, and yelling (this is P&J’s way of ‘talking back’ – yelling out in frustration at her daddy or me is not tolerated).  So.. whether we are at the park, the grocery store, doctor’s office, or the mall.  Time-out is held if any of these three things occurs.
time-out at the grocery store.
Parker bit her sister over sharing space in the shopping cart.  Not acceptable, girlfriend.  
Once time-out has been held, we always pep-talk it out and ‘make-up’ after the fact.  The explanation of why she was put in time out is always given.  No matter what you choose to do when your child misbehaves, be sure to explain to her why she’s getting a consequence. The hope is that this is how they’ll learn what not to do. 
It’s a parent’s endless challenge to find what works best for you personally and your children at any given time. This is what personally works for our family.  Jordan and I are on the same page about the way we discipline our girls, as well as their grandparents (who take care of Parker and Jolie several days a week).  Everyone must be on board with the way you choose to manage your toddler’s acting out or it won’t be successful.  Consistency with the consequences as well as who it is coming from play a large roll in the success and failure of your discipline. 
Find what works, or seems to work, and is within your comfort zone as a parent.  YOU are the parent of YOUR child.  Someone else telling you how to raise or discipline your kids can make it difficult to maintain and cause undue stress in an already stressful situation called life and parenting in general. You can already count the ball in your court as a win – the way you love them.  No one can do that better than you.  There days when I feel like all I’m doing is saying ‘no’, or ‘go to time-out’.  I find myself questioning how I’m doing as a parent- how I’m modeling these girls to be women.  
One thing is for sure,  I love them to the moon and back.  Although I feel like I’m on a roller coasted failing to cease circles, I can always know one thing is for sure.
Feel free to email if you have any questions! 


June 18, 2014

  1. Thanks for sharing. I'll have to keep this in mind as my little one gets older 🙂

  2. I literally lol at the time out at the grocery store picture. That's too funny. Love it!!

  3. love this post! Being a 1st grade teacher, so many of your points are exactly what I did with my students. Consistency, following through, not counting 1,2,3… etc. It's so important and the kids respond well to boundaries. They need them! Good job mama! 🙂

  4. Britt says:

    Where did you find those adorable red white and blue headbands??

  5. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for the post. I also have a strong willed one like Parker and have been going nuts when nothing works. She also loves to push her limits and laugh when she knows I'm upset and trying to punish her. Time out is the one thing I haven't tried yet (she is just now 15 months) and feel like this may work for us. I'm glad you shared.

  6. Sapphire says:

    I so needed this! My little girl is 14 1/2 months old and she bit me this morning so hard it hurt me. I didn't know what to do I was so shocked. Most of the time I can tell she's about to bite me and I move away but this time she caught me off guard. I'm going to start giving this a try. I was initially thinking she was too young but you have a great examples that they can understand at this age. THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!! Really very helpful!!!

  7. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old and I agree with finding discipline that works for your particular kids, mine are as different as night and day. Time out works like a charm for one and the other it had zero effect. We also count 1,2,3. There is nothing wrong in my mind giving them time to make up their minds to behave or not. It instantly fixes the behavior in one of my kids. If there is one thing I have learned in my 4 short years of being a parent is never say never. Most times that comes back to bite you in the rear 🙂

  8. Esther M. says:

    Hi, i can as well recommend Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting"

  9. "You Are Your Child's First Teacher" by Rahima Dancy has some good discipline tips based on child development, mainly that kids really can't remember what the rules are consistently until they're 7 years old so you have to show them what you want (and do it with them, ie putting away toys, etc.) and that time out should be more about taking a break to calm down or watch how other kids play than a punishment. Just something to think about :).

  10. Sheena says:

    This is awesome and almost exactly what we do only we've only been 'timing-out' for a few weeks. Wish we would've started earlier. We just didn't think they'd get it but it's good to know that they probably would have. Look out Sebastian… 😉

  11. Ashton says:

    AHHHH I need this! My babe is almost two, and he is a WILD child. I'm guessing similar to your Parker. This is something I'm going to start implementing tonight! We are go-to-your-bed discipliners", but I completely agree that it creates a negative connotation with the bedroom (which he already hates anyways!!!) Thank you for your insight. Lightbulbs went off left and right over here!