Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Time-Out

March 8th, 2011 by Dionna | 54 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Consensual Living, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


With a child firmly in his preschool years, I keep reading advice about how to successfully use time-outs.1 But I do not feel comfortable using isolation and control as parenting techniques. Instead, I try to turn tough parenting situations into moments of connection.2 Finding a way to connect with an angry, sad, or fearful child is not always easy, but the end result has been more nurturing and educational for both of us. The next time you feel like putting your little one in time out, how about trying one of these techniques instead?

  1. Model the Desired Behavior: Instead of demanding the behavior from your child, do it yourself. Model it. Children learn more from seeing a behavior modeled than they do by hearing someone tell them to do it.3
  2. Find the Need: All behavior is driven by a need. Don’t punish the behavior, address the need. Is your child hungry? Tired? Lonely? Every unmet need will result in a behavior that may or may not be desirable. Take care of the need, then talk about how they can more appropriately meet their need next time.
  3. Observe: Express yourself honestly without labeling your child or evaluating. Let your children know when their actions have an effect on others, but don’t guilt them. “Katie, I see that your toys are still on the kitchen floor. It is hard for me to move around the kitchen to get breakfast ready when there are toys on the floor. I feel frustrated that you have not picked up your toys. Will you please respect my need to have a clean kitchen floor? Please come get them, I will help you.”
  4. Let Your Child Work It Out: Before you get into the middle of the ensuing argument between siblings, stand quietly back and give them a minute. They might not work it out the way you would have, but that’s ok – they will learn by doing. You can always role play alternatives later in a safer, less emotionally-charged atmosphere.
  5. Take a Time-In: Use this time as an opportunity to connect. Bring your child to a safe place, snuggle up, and give them a minute to get out of “fight or flight” mode. Love them. Nurture them through this moment.
  6. Be Gentle: When all you feel like doing is yelling, make a conscious, concerted effort to be gentle. Often when we make an effort to practice gentleness, we find ourselves feeling more patient and calm. Remember those old psychology experiments where they asked people to smile? The people who faked smiles actually felt more cheerful. Try “faking” gentleness and see if you start feeling more gentle!4
  7. Reconsider Your Request: It is easy to get frustrated with small children when we are asking them to do something right now or in just this certain way. Does it really need to be done right now? Why can’t your child do it in her own way? Can you turn your request into an offer of cooperation? (Would you like to help me do this?) Is your request worth the power struggle that is starting to frustrate the both of you?
  8. Practice SALVE:
    (S) separate yourself and your emotions from your child’s behavior to be sure you’re truly about to respond to your child, and not as a result of something from your life/childhood. (If it helps, run through any angry words in your mind, then get rid of them before speaking gently to your child.)
    (A) give your little one your full, honest attention;
    (L) fully listen, be present for your child;
    (V) validate your child’s feelings without adding your own (“I see you want ___,” “you were disappointed because ____”);
    (E) empower your child to solve the upset himself. Believe in him; don’t rush to “fix” him.
  9. Love the Behavior: The next time you get frustrated with your child’s behavior, change your thinking – turn it into an opportunity to love your child. Instead of “I hate it when he has a temper tantrum!” try “I love that he trusts me so much to be emotionally vulnerable with me.”
  10. Offer Alternatives: Much like reconsidering your requests, offering alternatives can defuse a potential power struggle. Give your child real choices; even better, let him offer some of his own alternatives. Work together to find a solution, don’t work against each other – that will rarely end well.

Above all, make sure every communication comes from the intention to connect.5

What advice can you offer about avoiding time-out?

Photo Credit: LilGoldWmn


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  1. I still get those silly emails from that tell me “all about” my ____ month/year old. The emails are full of links for articles relevant to the age group of my child. Several weeks ago, I read an article teaser that said “6 tips to successfully use time-outs.”
  2. If you are curious about why many parents and experts recommend against time-out, see The Disadvantages of Time-Out, Time-Out Doesn’t Work, and Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason.
  3. Hence the reason more children of smokers will end up smoking, despite their parents efforts to tell them how unhealthy cigarettes are.
  4. I responded to something down in the comments that I wanted to include in the post too: Just in case the part about smiling wasn’t clear, I don’t mean you should concentrate on smiling when you are frustrated, but on being gentle. The psychology experiments I read about were on smiling – people who are told to smile report feeling happier (even if the smiles are faked). I’m just hypothesizing that if we “fake” gentleness, perhaps it will lead us into a real gentle mood! It can’t hurt to try anyway!
  5. For more on connecting with your children, join our discussion of Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids.

54 Responses to:
"Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Time-Out"

  1. a good list – so good to be reminded or to hear it again in a new way. cheers, my four and a half year old is so tired sometimes after kindy he can’t walk straight. So good to do snack rest straight away but even that can get hairy!

  2. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    Great ideas, Dionna! It’s so important for parents and teachers to be sensitive to the unique needs of each situation. I especially liked using Parent Effectiveness Training techniques emphasizing communication with I-messages and no-lose conflict resolution.

    Where there needed to be consequences, I liked logical consequences because children seem to understand and respect them. If a child needed to be removed from a situation – for disrupting a circle time in a preschool, for example – children typically understood having to sit away from the group until they were ready to return and sit quietly. When the situation was handled calmly and logically (with the child having the choice of returning whenever he or she felt ready), even being removed from the situation temporarily was still a form of gentle discipline.

    • Kate

      That’s sort of what we do with my (now 22 month old) son. Most of the time I can figure out why he’s being “bad” and make the necessary adjustments to my behavior or the situation. Unfortunately we went through a phase where he thought biting me was funny so I started picking him up, saying “we don’t bite,” setting him in a special chair and then walking away. It took a while for this to work because he wasn’t restrained in any way and could get right out of the chair and follow me (sometimes to bite me again) but after a few weeks he stopped biting regularly. Now we only have to “give him the chair” (as my husband jokes) a few times a week. It’s always for something physical like hitting or biting and only after he’s been warned multiple times to stop. Sometimes he pops right out of the chair and sometimes he stays there for a few minutes calming down but it’s always totally up to him.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        It’s so hard when they get physical, isn’t it?! I wonder if instead of just giving him the chair, you could 1) figure out what he’s trying to get your attention for and 2) give him alternatives.
        “Ouch! Please do not bite me, I do not like it. It hurts. It looks like you are upset that your blocks fell over, would you like me to help you stack them up? When you want my help, you can say ‘mama, help!'”
        “Ouch! Please do not bite me, I do not like it. It hurts. I know it’s just about lunch time, are you hungry? Here – let’s snack on some carrots before I get our sandwiches made. When you are hungry, you can help yourself to a healthy snack, or you can ask me for something.”

  3. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    Love the concept of time-in.
    I have seen that when I have swept up my child, and taken her to another room to spend some time… All the anger just disappear for both of us! And we get time to snuggle, and sometimes to BF!
    (I prefer this far more than going into a power-play or a hostile situation with the child)

  4. MJ

    Great list. We stopped doing timeouts a while ago. I now know that what my children want more than anything is to be heard, validated, respected, no matter what the topic or problem or who is right or wrong. The part of smiling when I feel like yelling though is a challenging thought. I think it’s important my children see me being authentic, yet I know they react to my facial expressions, which sometimes can speak louder than any words. I think at the end of the day, peaceful and gentle honesty and complete open communication is best :).

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Just in case the part about smiling wasn’t clear, I don’t mean you should concentrate on smiling when you are frustrated, but on being gentle. The psychology experiments I read about were on smiling – people who are told to smile report feeling happier (even if the smiles are faked). I’m just hypothesizing that if we “fake” gentleness, perhaps it will lead us into a real gentle mood!
      Does that make more sense?

  5. Emily @ Crunchy(ish) Mama   crunchyishmama

    Ha! I feel like I spend most of my parenting life faking gentleness! On many occasions mama has been the one needing a time out! As my little one moves from babyhood in to full-fledged kidness I’m excited to use gentle parenting and response to parent. I love techniques like time-in.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’ve felt like every single minute of gentleness with Kieran has been faked the past week – it’s about all I can do when stressed! :)

  6. teresa   momgrooves

    This is perfect. You could write a very useful book just based on this list.
    I do most of this instinctively, and I love the way you’ve broken things down and named them, like “time-in”.
    Finding the Need really resonated with me. (must be a sign of my own issues and where I wasn’t “heard” as a child…)
    This list will help me remember because as she’s getting older, I’m starting to find times when I’m not as patient anymore.
    My husband will also appreciate it very much.

  7. Kate Wicker   KateWicker

    Code Name: Mama, I always appreciate your posts. I, too, have found that looking more deeply to find the need behind the undesirable behavior is very important. Likewise, time-ins are far more effective around here than time-outs.

    Great advice for parents. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Nada   minimomist

    Wow, this is going in my “Future Parenting” bookmark folder. Thanks for so many great ideas!

  9. Fiona

    Dionna, I really enjoy your explanations of positive parenting and find a lot of useful trips. My challenge is that i’m not always sure how to use them with an 18 month old, particularly those based on a degree of reasoning with the child. For example, this morning my daughter kept spitting her oatmeal out of her mouth. I tried to approach it from the “what is her need” perspective, but honestly couldn’t identify any need. She had my full attention, we were eating breakfast together and it’s a food she enjoys. I gently asked her to stop and tried several levels of reasoning (she understand most of what i say): you’ll not be able to enjoy the food you like if you spit it out, it will make the floor dirty etc. None of it helped and I was stuck with the dilemma of taking away the food (she’s not a great breakfast eater so I’m loathe to do this) or to allow her to continue spitting it out. Like many of her behaviours that I have found challenging, I’m sure this one would pass. So maybe the solution is to just let it be and a week from now it will likely be a distant memory. But there’s always a tiny bit of me that worries that it won’t.

  10. I’m saving this list. What thoughtful, useful, loving ideas. My son is just developing into his toddler self, and I’m sure I’ll have reason to turn to this list as he begins to explore his emotions and his world further. What an excellent post (as always!)

  11. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Great suggestions! One area I’m struggling with right now though is when my son’s “need” is to climb and get his energy out physically, but due to weather etc. we’re stuck inside of a tiny apartment. He climbs the couch, bed, bookshelf, etc and doesn’t listen at all when I saw no. I have tried to patiently spot him so he can climb without getting hurt, but he is seemingly tireless! And he does it whenver I step away, like to get a glass of water in the kitchen etc. I’m not that concerned about the disobedience, but I am worried about the safety issue. How do you get Kieran to obey a simple “no” in dangerous situations? He’s gotten some bumps & bruises already and we can’t seem to think of anything we haven’t tried yet other than spanking or time outs. Help, please!

  12. Alicia C.   amccrenshaw

    Thank you for this list. I already practice many of these, and the new ones will help when my old routine just isn’t working. I’m having a lot of trouble with my almost-13-year-old son right now. Many of my usual tricks just don’t work anymore. If anyone has any tips or can direct me to posts or articles to help, please email me at ohmiss14 at yahoo dot com I’m getting desperate!

  13. I like the ideas but we do need something more, with 3 under 6 a lot of your suggestions aren’t always feasible, nor is the energy there to be dealing with everything that intensively… We have adapted “Time Out” here, to “Peace and Quiet” (P&Q). That means that if someone is finding it all a bit much they can request P&Q or if they are getting out of hand or have done something very mean or dangerous they are requested to take P&Q. It is not a punishment or shaming, but a way of stopping a dangerous situation from developing further. My eldest son takes himself off for P&Q when he feels he needs it. I request it sometimes too. If someone has been sent for P&Q (never more than about 3 mins) and always done calmly, they then need to come back and make amends to the person they have hurt. It works for us.

    We also use something called Happy Candles for dealing with tantrums that I wrote about in this issue of Rhythm of the Home which might interest you

    @maman a droit, I really want to help. I think partly a very, very firm “no”, holding him still, making sure you are at his level, eye contact and telling him in a simple sentence why not. And then, this sounds really callous, dare I say it… he learns from his mistakes… you watch him as much as you can, you remind him of why not to do it… you can have consequences if you feel really strongly that it is not OK, and then it is NEVER OK to climb on the sofa. But otherwise it can turn into a game: “mama says no, this gets her attention, this is fun…” and so it will go on more…

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for your wisdom Lucy! It seems like P&Q is a much gentler form of time-out. Honestly, I know of a lot of kids who need “time-out,” but not a forced one – making it an option (or making it less of a punishment – letting them just hang out in quieter location with books, etc.), gives a child more power – which I imagine translates to more peaceful energy.

  14. Liam   hadaad

    I certainly won’t pretend that I am always able to follow these teachings. I do believe that treating your child with respect and helping them to understand a situation is best. I am, however, prone to losing my patience, and it is so easy to fall into what is familiar. Before too long, usually, I can remember what I’m about and pull it together.
    Thanks for posting a great list and resource for gentle discipline and better understanding.

  15. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    It’s so hard to envision my babe as a toddler, but I hope I can live this advice when the time comes. I especially like SALVE. I feel like I do that now – as much as one can – with a baby. I hope you’ll publish all of your advice as a book before Jac becomes a toddler because that would be an awesome resource.

  16. Kristen @ Adventures in Mommyhood   crunchymamato2

    So glad to see this list. We’ve been looking for gentle discipline practices to use with our daughter. I feel like we have the best intentions, but sometimes fall short when frustrated, etc. This list will help!

    I am just finishing reading Playful Parenting and I really like the idea of “meetings on the couch.”

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Playful Parenting is awesome, isn’t it?! I think we all fall short when frustrated. Personally, the thing that helps me the most at that moment is telling Kieran I am frustrated – it usually helps him stop and think, then we can work it out together. Honestly! And he’s 3 yrs old! He really cares about my feelings, because he knows I care about his.

  17. Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes   sheryljesin

    Wonderful suggestions, and just what I needed! My husband and I both seem to be raising our voices a bit too much lately…it is very hard to give our 3 yr old DS the attention he needs when we are also trying to meet the needs of our 2 month old DS. Thank you for the great ideas – I will definitely be forwarding this list to my DH!

  18. Andrea!!!   EllaBeanAndCo

    I think I will print this out and hang it in Ella’s room. She is a very independent girl, as well as pretty high needs, which leaves me feeling at my wit’s end. We don’t do timeouts, but I do find myself getting frustrated and not being as gentle as I would like to be. Thank you for this!!!

  19. Melissa @ The New Mommy Files   vibreantwanderer

    What a great list, Dionna! I am so thankful to have mamas like you to learn from before things like time outs are even something I have to worry about ;) I love bouncing all of these ideas around now, so that I can parent calmly and confidently later. I love it!

  20. Thanks for such a thoughtful and gentle post. It is a great reminder to be mindful of what is really going on instead of getting carried away by the emotion of the moment!

    Come & Join the Playdate!

  21. Amy   anktangle

    I really appreciate your intentional commitment to gentleness in your parenting and discipline, Dionna. I know it’s not always easy, but you set an awesome example. I’m finding it harder lately to force myself to not react the way I was parented. I feel like we’ve had a lot of struggles because of Daniel’s sensory processing issues, and some days (maybe more than I’d like to admit) I’m just trying to make it through the day. Those days, it is particularly challenging to be patient and redirect him from dangerous situations.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I bet we all have a certain age or stage that will be easier/harder than others. Be gentle with yourself Amy – remember that WE are learning to (especially those of us who were parented differently). The fact that you are conscious of it speaks volumes :)

  22. Sarah

    I wish my parents had used this instead of grounding/time outs. After the punishment was over I just went back and did it again heeheehee :)

  23. Erika Burton   DrEBurton

    I do agree with your ideas for how to facilitate and model positive behavior in our children. However, there are times when children do unsafe behaviors where putting them in a place that is safe and allowing them to reflect as well as the parent to calm down is necessary. I agree that time outs should never be negative but shared as a time of reflection and redirection to get started on the right foot again. Additionally, hugging your child during moments of frustration unless they are violent and need to be calmed down is not always the best route to take especially if they have sensory difficulties.
    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs

  24. Mrs Green @   littlegreenblog

    Lovely list/. I avoid time outs too, but I do have them for myself. If I really can’t parent in a loving way then I take myself out of the situation for a moment. But all your ideas are brilliant and the ones I aspire too. Avoiding the ‘three overs’ (over tired, over stimulated, over hungry) is the key to avoiding most conflict with younger kids :)

  25. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I am a HUGE fan of Aldort’s SALVE technique. I’m also a huge fan of dance parties in the kitchen. They fix pretty much any bad mood.

    But really, what I wanted to say is that some of the worst experiences I have had as a parent surround time-outs, but not ones I’ve given my kid. Usually, they go like this: my kid is doing something that I judge as OK, but another parent judges as not OK. Their kid mimics my kid. Their kid gets a time-out. They get out of a time-out, and my kid encourages their kid to do whatever-it-is again, and their kid gets a time-out AGAIN.

    I’ve tried a variety of tactics, but what it’s come down to is that I’ve had to remove my child from several spaces because her behaviour was leading to another child being disciplined. Such a downer. :(

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’ve had similar experiences – it is hard, because it’s like we (as the more “lax” parents) are being judged too. (le sigh) And since it’s just typical kid behavior that I’d never punish, I’m at a loss for what to do as well (except the same as you – remove Kieran).

    • Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

      Once we were at a dinner, and Mikko was eating butter, straight. I can’t figure out why, culturally, eating a tablespoon of butter on a spoon is frowned on but eating that same tablespoon smeared on a white-flour roll is considered acceptable. Anyway, the little girl across the table wanted to mimic him and her mother told her no way. Then the mom looked at me with this odd expression, and I wasn’t sure if she was apologizing to me for shaming my parenting so openly or hinting that I was supposed to stop Mikko. Awk-ward.

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