My partner and I know that we don't want to using spanking as a discipline method with our 3-year-old sons, but beyond that, we're absolutely lost. Our kids are great at testing boundaries, but putting them in traditional timeouts doesn't seem to be making much of a difference in terms of getting them to behave better. I feel like I've tried every timeout technique on my twins on the face of the earth and I'm still not sure what will work for them on any given day.
My parenting style is pretty laid back, but when they do something potentially dangerous, like treat the couch as a trampoline or lay hands (or teeth) on one another, I feel the need to step in and let them know that what they're doing is not OK. I'm sick of yelling at them, and threatening to take their teddy bears to the dumpster only makes them ask to go outside for a walk, so I decided to try some popular time-out techniques to see if any of them could help my kids see the error of their (still adorable, if not bratty) ways.
Since nothing seemed to be working on a consistent basis anyhow, I decided that for a full week I'd try a different timeout technique each day for my 3-year-old twins to see which ones (if any) were effective at improving their bad behavior. I know that my twins are two different people with different personalities, and I do my best to cater to what each of them need, but frankly, I'm stumped. I don't know what to do to get them to listen and understand, so I felt like a week of trying different strategies might get us on the right track or, at the very least, help us narrow down which tactics definitely don't work.
So this week I tried putting them in the corner for a set period of time, sending them to their room, putting myself in timeout, using a relaxation timer, and letting them take a few minutes without toys while keeping them in one place. Here's what happened:
Attempt #1: Traditional Timeout
What It Is: If you've ever seen the show Supernanny, then you're familiar with this social exclusion timeout technique. You chose a particular spot that a child must stay in when they misbehave, like a corner, step, or chair, and then the child must stay there for one minute for each year of his age (in my case, three minutes). If the child attempts to leave you calmly place him back, and at the end of the timeout you remind the child why they were put in there in the first place and ask for a hug and a kiss.
How It Went: OK, first thing's first: I flat-out refused to call this timeout spot the "Naughty Spot" because it just sounds like something out of a 50 Shades of Grey book. Other than that, this technique seemed pretty straight-forward. And if I only had one 3 year old to discipline, perhaps it would've worked better, but the day we tried it resulted in total chaos. Our timeout spot was a corner formed by two couches because it helped cut down on escapes from a chair or a child charging up the stairs toward freedom. But when one twin was in timeout, the twin who wasn't liked to climb on the couch and either taunt the convicted or play hide and seek with an unable partner. I don't like when the kids try to parent each other (which happened), and they were giggling when they were supposed to be atoning, so it completely defeated the purpose.
Even with the couches acting as a barrier, if I stepped away from the corner for even a second the boy in timeout pulled a Shawshank and wiggled out, laughing the entire time. Worse still, sometimes the kids like to climb into the corner like it's a fort and munch on snacks or read books, so it didn't really seem like they were understanding the whole "punishment" part.
I spent the day yelling and pacing in front of the couches like a bailor and hated it. I was frustrated that the kids weren't taking this experiment seriously, and at the fact they they didn't even seem to comprehend the fact that they'd done something wrong or unsafe or harmful (either to themselves or to each other). I didn't know how to get the message across, but clearly this way wasn't working for us.
On to the next one.
Attempt #2: "Go To Your Room!"
What It Is: When a child acts up, you send them off to their room to be alone and reflect on what they did wrong, and then let them come out after a set period of time or once you've cooled off.
How It Went: I grew up being punished by being sent to my room, but I've held off on using this tactic thus far because my kids are still so young. However, at 3, they're able to open and close doors and navigate stairs, and they're very good at following directions when they are so inclined (aka: when it suits them), so I thought it was worth a try.
I'm torn on how I feel about sending kids to their room when they misbehave. Although I have a baby monitor, it's upstairs in the master bedroom, so unless my husband is home and one of us goes upstairs until the timeout's over, there's no way to be sure that the child in timeout isn't hurt or getting into mischief. Plus, my boys share a bedroom, so there goes the whole idea that I could send both of them to their respective rooms to deal with a double-duty timeout. They'd just forget they were in trouble and play together. And although the boys' bedroom is baby-proofed, they've still managed to find ways to pull the curtains down or take pictures off the wall when they really want to.
Having one child upstairs in timeout while I'm downstairs with the other on an ordinary day isn't feasible, and it seems unfair to make the innocent child stop playing to come sit upstairs in my room while the other is in timeout. (Also if I did that, we'd spend the entire day going up and down the stairs.)
What I did like about the "go to your room" technique, however, is the few occasions that my children made me see red, like when they hit me or one another, having them out of my sight for three minutes gave me a chance to calm down and think clearly. When they're in timeout but still in my sight, sometimes I'm still angry even when their timeout is technically over. It was easier for me to get over their bad behavior when they were in a separate room.
My kids don't have any toys in their bedroom besides stuffed animals and they seemed very contrite when I went to release them, but they are excellent at going down for naps and sleep at night, and I really don't want them to form a negative association with their bedrooms, so even though the break from them was nice, sending them to their room won't work for my family as a long-term punishment option.
Attempt #3: Putting Myself In Timeout
What It Is: Presented as an option by Dr. Sears, rather then put the misbehaving child in an isolated location, the parent makes sure the kids are in a safe place and steps back for a few minutes to themselves.
How It Went: I love my kids, but there are days when I'm grumpy and quick to snap at them or am touched out and want a few minutes without another human touching me. When my kids scatter toys with wild abandon or grind their elbows into my breasts despite my repeated pleas for them to stop, I say, "Mommy needs some privacy," and lock myself in the kitchen where I can still see them.
And it works. Yes, sometimes the boys come to the gate and whine for me to come out, but it's nice to know I have a place I can go when I feel my blood start to boil but I don't want to lash out by yelling at the kids. Retreating to the kitchen is a way to settle myself down and often realize that I'm not actually upset with the kids' behavior, but rather something else is stressing me out and I'm unfairly taking that stress out on them.
Choosing the kitchen as my personal timeout spot is great in that it lets me take better care of myself. I often forget to drink water during the day because my kids love to fight over my water bottle, or worse, spill it. Sometimes I go too long between meals. Sending myself to the kitchen gives me the chance to calm down but also lets me guzzle a glass of water or grab a piece of fruit that I can eat without having to share.
Attempt #4: The Relaxation Bottle
What It Is: If your child gets overwhelmed or inconsolable when placed in timeout, you hand them this bottle filled with glitter and water. The relaxation bottle serves as both a timer to let your child know when the timeout is over, and gives them something to focus on to help them relax and calm down.
How It Went: The second I saw this craft on Pinterest I was reminded of those glitter-filled key chains that were popular when I was a kid and I knew I had to make one, even if the kids didn't get anything out of it. I raided the last of my middle school body glitter (yes, I still have it, thank you very much) and made a turquoise and green version that's glorious to behold.
Lolo, my son, is my more sensitive child. Whenever he gets himself into trouble he wails and asks to be snuggled in a blanket, and sometimes it can take 20 minutes or more to calm him down. Even something as small as stumbling over a block can cause him to have a meltdown, so I was hopeful that the glittery relaxation bottle would serve as a nice distraction and help him get control of his emotions more easily.
While he loved to watch the glitter swirl and settle in the bottle and it did dry his tears up quickly, he also didn't understand why he couldn't drink it. And when the super-glued and taped top proved to be impenetrable, he tried to bite his way through the plastic. When I offered the bottle to his brother, Remy chucked it across the room. It was a total failure. Yes, the bottle served as a distraction, but there was no learning involved for the kids. Remy wasn't into it at all (hence the throwing), and it just made Lolo totally preoccupied with wanting to eat the glitter that he totally forgot why he was in timeout in the first place.
Maybe when they're older this could work, but for now it's a pretty knick-knack on my dresser.
Attempt #5: Some Good Old Quiet Time
What It Is: Rather than wrestle with the kids over staying in timeout, when they acted up I told them they need some "quiet time" and redirected them to an area without any toys and gave them a blanket. Then I told them they could come back and play when they were ready to play "nice." I'm not sure if it's lazy or genius, but I came up with it on my own, so I'm leaning more towards genius, obvs.
How It Went: When my kids were fighting or acting bratty by throwing toys, rather then waste my energy yelling or hauling them into timeout only to have them immediately climb back out, I tried telling them to take some quiet time instead in our bare and boring foyer. And, guess what? Rather then give them the giggles like being in a timeout corner, making them sit alone seemed to "click" better than the other timeout techniques. They'd come back to me when their timeout time was up calmer and ready to play nicely.
Not having a set time to the quiet time seemed to work well too. Rather than an arbitrary number based on age, telling them to take some quiet alone time let them work through their issue in however long it took them. They didn't have a ticking clock to distract them and weren't forced into lying and saying that they understood why they'd been punished. Sometimes they'd come back to my lap in less than a minute, other times they'd make a game of playing with the blanket or being by themselves. It felt more like I was letting them take control and responsibility of their behavior rather than forcing them to act a certain way within a certain time frame. Major, major success.
Did We Find A Timeout Technique Winner?
Like every other aspect of parenting, the discipline technique that works for one child may not work for another — and nothing has taught me that more clearly than raising my twin boys. I've realized that one child will almost always respond differently to the same timeout technique, and it's only going to increase as my sons grow and develop.
I know the way I discipline my kids will likely change as they get older, but for now I can say traditional timeouts in the corner, sending them to their room, and using a relaxation bottle aren't a good fit for us. I liked how putting myself in timeout resulted in less yelling and stopped me from taking my adult stress out on the boys. And giving my kids quiet time to themselves rather then forcing them to stay in a corner when they misbehave was surprisingly effective. It played to both of their strengths — they took the time they needed and enjoyed a break in playing together — and they had the opportunity to decide if and when they were ready to play nicely without the stress of watching the clock until their timeout was over.
Images: Courtesy of Megan Zander (6), Giphy (2)