Using time-out with your child who is behaving in a way you don’t like doesn’t work.  Some parents may think it works in that it might stop the behavior in the immediate short-term.  I’ve tried it – because it is easy, reinforced by our culture, takes little effort on my part to think of a win-win solution for myself and my child, and it doesn’t require me to get a handle on my own emotions.

But using isolation, fear, and punishment don’t work for nurturing our children to be compassionate, empathetic and confident kiddos…and most often they don’t even stop the behavior!

Think about it – the same society that uses time-out for children also believes that the punitive punishment of criminals (ex. isolation holes) results in reformed adults – hence our “correctional system.”  Punishment, fear, and isolation don’t reform adults and they do nothing to curb our children’s behavior in a positive way, much less teach them about cooperation and compassion.  (Side note – of all the studies that have been done about reducing recidivism, the conclusion is the same: the number one way of reforming criminals – higher education).

It takes effort to be a conscious, mindful parent.  Mostly because, sadly, it is counter cultural, and because we have to be aware of and take responsibility for our own reactions and emotions (how hard is it to get a grip on our anger in the moment of being ignited by a screaming child?!).  It’s easier to jump into controller mode and try to dominate the situation by becoming more rigid, using anger and threats.

Other solutions?  The world of Positive Discipline offers some great suggestions (for more info., check out Jane Nelsen’s blog):

Offer a Hug

Yes, that’s right.  When your child acts out just ask, “Oh, do you want a hug?”  This does not condone their behavior.  It seeks first to connect to your child when emotions are running high.  Touch also regrounds a child who is all over the place and out of control.  When things cool down, then you can talk about what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Show Them What You Want

If you want them to stop hitting (or whining, throwing, etc.), tell them what you DO want and SHOW them how to do it.  Ex. Taylor hits the cat.  Get down on Taylor’s level, look him in the eyes, and say, “We use gentle hands.”  Then show him immediately what gentle hands are.

Mirror/Validate Your Child’s Feelings

“I see you are upset.”  “I see you really want that cookie.”  “I see that you really need to run around and it’s hard for you to sit.”

Walk Away

If you and your child are having a difficult time at home, YOU walk away.  Don’t send your child away.  You say, “I’m really upset right now and I need to cool down.”  Go into the other room. Go to the bathroom.  Guess what this teaches?  Taking responsibility for self-regulation and appropriate self-care.  Funny addition – just lay down on the ground right where you are and start making funny grunting sounds or breathing deeply.  This is a true release for you and it’ll crack up your child while defusing the situation.

Lots of Time-in

Throughout the day, PLAY with your child.  Be silly.  Children learn best through play.  Give them your full, undivided attention in short bits throughout the day.


Give two choices.  Children respond better to choices than to commands.  They instinctively know when they are trying to be controlled.  “Would you like to eat a pear or an apple?”  “Do you want mom to help you or do you want to do it yourself?”  “You can take a bath being happy or sad.”


“YES, you can go outside after you finish your dinner.”  “Of course you can call your friend when you finish your homework.”

Curious Questions

Instead of telling your child what to do, ask things like “Where would you like to put your coat and shoes so you can find them when you want to go outside?”  “What would be a polite way of asking me?”

Ask Once Then Act

Use less words and more actions.  Ask for their cooperation, give choices, and then just act.  Ex. Ella won’t pick up her toys at the end of the day.  You tried to give choices, you asked curious questions (“Where do you think would be a good idea to put your dolls so you can find them tomorrow?”), and you asked her instead of telling her to do it.  She still refuses.  Go over to her and say, “This is how we clean up.”  And start doing it with her.  Be playful and silly (use a funny voice or facial expression).

Give Warnings

“In three minutes, it will be time to leave.”  “Ok, let’s do it two more times (hit the ball, play with the toy, go down the slide) and then it’s time to go.”

Natural Consequences

Allow children to experience the consequences of their behaviors.  Child makes a mess, help them to use their own hands to clean it up. Child breaks a toy, he throws it away or helps repair it.  You can even ask, “What do you think will happen if we don’t…” (not as a threat but as a way of thinking about cause and effect).

Intentional Ignoring

“I can listen to you when you talk nicely to me.”  Then walk away.  Don’t say anything else. Or just sometimes asking yourself, “Is this a big deal?  Is this one of those battles I don’t have to fight?”  And just ignore it. (Obviously, don’t ignore a behavior that is hurting someone or the child).

Positive Reinforcement

Catch them in the act of doing something great. “That was really kind of you to share your snack with Jennifer.”  Name the specific behavior rather than saying, “Great job!” or “You are so great!”

Teaching Empathy

Ask, “How do you think Joseph felt when you helped him?”  “How do you think Connor felt when you yelled at him?”  Then ask a curious question, “What would be a way to help him feel better?”

Instilling Self-pride

“How do you feel about yourself after sharing your snack with grandpa?”

Identifying Feelings

Help children label and identify feelings, “It sounds like you are…sad, mad, happy, excited.  What do you think?”  Children are instinctively in tune with their bodies.  “How does your heart feel as you help out your younger sister?” Or “Where does it hurt on your body when you are angry (yelling, fighting, crying)?”

Time Away

Experts use different terms for this, but no matter what you call it, here’s the idea.  Thomas is throwing things at someone’s house.  You take his hand and you walk him to another space away from the action.  You say, “We’ll wait here until you settle down some.”  Then you non-emotionally just wait with him even while he throws a tantrum.  You don’t leave him, scold him, or lecture him.  When he seems finished, you say, “Are you finished?  Do you feel better?  Are you ready to go back and play?” And then go back – no lecturing.  Let it go. Some parent experts also suggest having a “comfort corner” or special place where children can go to let off steam, be by themselves, and regroup.

These are some practical tips that we’ve learned and tried to use as a parent and ones I share with my clients.  Though I wrote these with younger children in mind, they can easily be adjusted for older children, even teenagers!

This IS hard work!  And I, too, often resort to what is easier or requires less of me because I am tired (hey, I’m 39 weeks prego!), I’m nervous around another parent, or because of some feeling I’m experiencing that is unrelated to the moment.  But I have noticed that when I become mindful of these practices and do them, everyone is happier!

Here’s to really hoping that we use less punitive ways of correcting behaviors and instead see the value in mainstreaming these positive discipline techniques that further attachment, enhance self-esteem, and teach compassion – for one’s self and others!  Let’s encourage each other.  And then maybe we can have an impact on how our schools discipline our children!


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