I need a time out

Today was not a good day. I was crabby. I was yelling at my daughter. I didn’t even have to yell at the dog, because when she heard me start on Thing 1, she hid in her crate. I was bored. And tired of picking up the same mess day after day. I was not being nice. I needed a time out. So, I gave myself one.That’s right. I put myself in time out. I put Dora on the TV, set my daughter in front of it, and took a (much-needed) shower. I didn’t put myself on a timer. I just stayed away until I thought I could behave. After all, that’s what I do with Ripley for her time outs.I hear a lot of moms talking about fighting to keep their toddler in time out. Or taking away shoelaces while they’re in time out, so they have nothing to play with. That’s not how we do it, especially for a one year old. Instead of it being a timed punishment, it’s more of a redirection tool. The idea is simply to get her to stop the bad behavior. As a bonus, it  sets up the idea of discipline/punishment for when she is older. It also gets me in the habit of being consistent and following through with threats and discipline. But for T1 for now, it’s just a reset button.

When T1’s misbehaving and needs a time out, we have a spot within sight but out of the way (and what 1 year old wants to be left out!) where she sits in time out. I go on with my “life”, so she can see that her bad behavior only effects her. She has to stay there simply until she can stop the offending behavior. For example, “Sit in time out until you can decide to listen,” or “…be nice to mommy” if she was hitting me. When she gets up, I ask “Are you going to…” and state what positive behavior I want (listen/be nice/pick up her toys/etc.). If she does what she’s supposed to, time out is over. If not, she has to go back and sit.

We started this around 15 months. After one week, all I had to say was, “Do you need to go to time out?” She would either act as she should, or nod and walk herself over to her time out spot. (Yes, I got really lucky. She is a good kid. At least for now.)

The nice thing about this, is you don’t have to become the bad guy with the timer. For example, if your 3 year old has to sit for 3 minutes, but gets up and is playing nicely after one, do you force them to go back, in their minds punishing them for behaving well? Or do you say, “Sit for 3 minutes or until you can behave.” After all, how many 3 year olds have a great concept of time? This way they are in control not only of their behavior, but of their punishment.

I even use this in public. Perhaps you’ve seen my child sitting against the outside wall at Starbucks until she can decide to hold my hand and cross the parking lot nicely? Or sitting on the sand (outside the water) at the beach until she can play without splashing me in the face?

As they age, we’ll change things according to her development level. Not behaving in time out? Go to your room. Or lose privileges. My mom’s foster kids have to sit in timed time out with an educational toy or book, but they are 7 and older. We’re hoping starting early will make discipline easier, but the key is following through and being consistent.

Consistency isn’t always easy. I was sitting on the couch the other day, thinking about telling T1 to pick up some books she left on the floor. Then I reconsidered. If I told her to pick them up, I’d have to follow through, making sure she picked them up. I was feeling fat and tired (being pregnant does that to you)  and really didn’t want to get up and make her pick them up. I really didn’t want to punish her with a time out either, because she was currently playing with cars and letting me rest. So I kept my mouth shut and left the books on the floor a little while longer. Sure, maybe I lost points on consistency of picking up your toys when you’re done playing with them. But I didn’t have to get into a battle of wills to protect the consistency of the importance of listening to your mom. Score 1 for parenting, 0 for housekeeping.

So, today, I needed to be consistent. Grumpy behavior and yelling at others is not tolerated in our house. Throwing myself down for a nap sounded like a really good idea, but was out of the question. So, I used the only tool open to me: time out. And it worked. I’m not going to lie and say we had our best afternoon ever, but we did okay. I even got out our baby pool and sat in it with T1. I just needed to hit my reset button. And now my daughter knows that when I threaten to put on Dora and go take a shower, I mean it.


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