Time Out! Discipline for Toddlers

As a new Mom of toddlers, I would get frustrated when I tried to get them to do a “Time-KristieClarkblog pic1Out”.  How do you get a 3 year old to stay seated for 3 seconds, much less 3 minutes?

Have you ever seen a 9 month old baby remove Grandma’s glasses or pull their Mom’s hair?  Babies as young as 9 months can exhibit defiance, and need some gentle discipline.  Babies younger than 9 months really are not capable of being naughty and do not need discipline. When young babies cry, it is for a reason. Usually, babies that cry have a need to be met.  Either they are hungry, wet, dirty, cold, too warm, sick, in pain, scared, over-stimulated, tired or colicky. It is up to us as parents to get to know our baby’s non-verbal communication cues so that we can meet their needs.  Never ever hit or shake a baby!

As for those toddlers (and I mean around 9 months and up), how do you get them to stay in “Time-Out”?  A 9 month old who pulls hair could simply be told “‘OW! – no hair pulling, hair pulling hurts”, and then turn the child to face away from the care-giver.  The child should be held facing away until the child begins to relax and comply with this mini “Time-Out”.  Then the child can be turned back around. The care-giver can then move on and let it go (there is no need to lecture a 9 month old), give the child a smile and resume play.

An older toddler between the ages of 1-3 years of age may need to be restrained in a care-givers lap to enforce a “Time-Out”.  Again the child should be held facing away until the child begins to relax, and then the “Time-Out” can end.  With “Time-Outs” as with any activity, practice makes perfect. With older toddlers who can understand multiple step commands, practice “Time-Outs” as a game when everything is going well.

Will our kids listen to us when we tell them it’s time to go? A similar “game” would be practicing having the child stop an activity to get a cookie – this is an example of compliance training. We reward them for stopping play on cue by giving a reward, training them to stop play in cue when it is time to go or move on to another activity.

Finally, after all this talk about discipline, I will say that the most important determinant of a truly well behaved child is whether that child is recognized for doing good things. Don’t forget to catch your child being good – and say so – over and over again!

*Written by Kristie Clark, MD, FAAP, pediatrician in WaKeeney, KS

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