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. Tat   muminsearch

    Time-outs are such a counter-intuitive parenting technique. I’ve never understood how they would help in any situations. Time-in is a much better option for us, but it doesn’t always help. Thanks for your suggestions, I will try them out.

  2. Terri Henry   onelovelivity

    Once again thank-you Dionna for this great post – useful and practical solutions. I linked it up on my first Sunday Surf post!

  3. Write About Birth   writeaboutbirth

    I wanted to reply to this much sooner because I really LOVE this article! It came at a great time for me, because as committed as I am to GD in theory, practice takes over sometimes. When I am tired, frustrated, stressed, and lack creativity, my AP self takes a break and my own mother emerges. Yelling, threatening. In such situations, knowing you should act differently does nothing, and you need concrete steps to apply. Thanks for such an inspiring post!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I think that happens for all of us. I find myself threatening “if, then’s” a lot when I’m tired and stressed. I need to remember that and take it as a sign that I need a break!

  4. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    My last carnival post to comment on, and I saved you for last. :) Hey, it’s not a full week yet…

    I really love these reminders and need them RIGHT NOW. Lately, we’ve been going through various sleep scheduling issues, and it’s making Mikko alternately giddy and cranky, and me just cranky. I really want to try the faking gentleness (might as well!) and keep practicing the S of SALVE. That’s as far as I ever get, so clearly I need more practice.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Well don’t we save each other’s posts for last because we write them last? ;)
      I’ve got to tell you, this last month I have WANTED to put Kieran in time out. Like, continuously. He is so fully a 3 yr old, it’s not even funny. Faking gentleness is usually a good go-to for me, but I haven’t been feeling even emotionally capable of that sometimes :(

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