Prev Next
Toddler and Timeout

To Time Out Or Not

By Amalah

Amy – love your columns & blog. Hope you can get to this question soon. I have a 20 month and am wondering if time-outs are something she will ‘get’ at this age. Do you do them with your boys? The behavior in question is when I am changing her diaper she will kick me. I have tried to correct by saying “No kicking” but that produces laughter/games from her side. I have tried no reaction to it for a while – she doesn’t kick every time but when she does I can’t seem to communicate with her that she shouldn’t be doing it. (Not to mention I am 8 months pregnant and my belly is well within her kick-span at this time…)

My husband seems to think we could do them at her age now but I am not so sure I could get her to sit in a chair if she was throwing a fit. I have been reluctant to use the crib as a time-out place because I don’t want her to associate that with punishment. Any help appreciated. THANKS!

H

Yes, we do use time-outs in our house. We use a Super Nanny-inspired Naughty Step, and our time-outs are generally one minute for each year of age. (You’re 100% right — the crib should NEVER be used as a punishment space.) My oldest son, Noah, didn’t start “real” time-outs until well after his second birthday (I think, oh my lands, the parental memory holes are so deep already), mostly because the results were almost comical when we tried it earlier. He just stared at me like, “What? Are you kidding me? Because I’m going to stand up the second you back away. Maybe even the second before that.”

My (now middle) son, Ezra, on the other hand, understands the Naughty Step already, and we’ve been using it for a couple weeks now for temper tantrums that involve throwing toys or hitting. He’s only 22 months, but I think he “gets” the concept because he’s seen us use it with his older brother. We round up to about two minutes (ISH) for him, and have taught him to say and sign “sorry” (rub your fist in a circle on your chest) so he’s learning the whole “apologize and you can get up” part of the punishment too. Yesterday I saw him get angry at Noah and throw a toy car at him…and then as soon as he realized what he’d done he stomped over and sat voluntarily on the step. He knew! Win! Huzzah!

But there’s NO WAY the Naughty Step would have worked like that for Noah at 22 months — he wasn’t verbal enough, for one thing, and he didn’t have the benefit of seeing it in action with an older sibling. So…it might be too early for your daughter, or it might not be. It’s just different for every kid — some kids will never really respond well to time-outs, and some parents are mightily against the concept in general, so…yeah. I AM ABSOLUTELY NO HELP AT ALL.

Oh, wait! Maybe I am! My boys went through a similar phase — hell, Ezra is STILL in this phase — of hitting/kicking/whacking with toys/throwing stuff right in your face/OW OW OW. Noah was probably around 18 months — far too young for time-outs. We started reading the “Hands Are Not For Hitting” kids’ book and following the parents’ advice in the back of the book on how to gently and consistently react to the behavior (without losing OUR temper, because seriously, even an 18-month-old can HURT YOU, even if they think it’s just a game). It really, really helped a lot, and there is indeed a “Feet Are Not For Kicking” version that I would definitely suggest you try, regardless of whether you decide to institute time-outs or not.

And as further evidence that Different Things Work For Different Kids — we read Hands Are Not For Hitting practically DAILY to Ezra before giving up and plopping his butt on the Naughty Step. He liked the book, but cheerfully and consistently ignored the Entire Point. He gets mad, he lashes out with his hands — he smacks or throws things or just knocks the nearest thing over in a pint-sized huff. For him, I think the BREAK aspect of the time-out — a minute or two to calm down and take a breather — is what HE needs, and why it works for him. Your daughter might just need to see the “THIS IS NOT A GAME, THAT HURTS MOMMY AND BABY BROTHER/SISTER” message illustrated and reinforced for her rather than punishment, since she really is at an age where kids just DO STUFF without understanding why they shouldn’t. Once you’re really sure that the awareness is there and self-control is possible, a time-out can be much more effective, I think.

***********


Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Karen
Guest
Karen

My daughter would also laugh in my face if I tried to get her to sit on a mat for a minute. I did come across a suggestion recently – when starting TO’s with a 18-24 month old, the parent or caregiver should accompany the child to the spot and sit with them, quietly, for the entire time. Eventually the parent sits for less time, or moves away from the exact spot, as the child learns the routine.

But now I’m thinking, if modeling is really that helpful, perhaps I should give my husband timeouts? Bam!

Lisa M
Guest
Lisa M

I think you can use time-outs at that age, within reason. Chances are she’s not going to sit there, but at least you can build the framework. Use timeouts as a way to cool off; for example, if she’s kicking you, she has to sit in timeout until she can remember not to kick (or 2 minutes). Emphasize that there are rules (you don’t have to confuse the issue by saying my rules, etc.). Just a general “we don’t hit/kick/blah blah.” But just like having an older sibling, the more you practice timeouts, the more she’ll understand that there are… Read more »

Anna
Guest

The fact that she’s laughing tells me she looks at the kicking as a fun game! She’s obviously not trying to be malicious. We went to standing up diaper changes somewhere around that age. If it was a poopy diaper, we did it in the bathtub. Obviously that’s not going to work in public, but at home that may calm the power struggle immediately. If stand up changing doesn’t help, I would suggest calmly stating, “We do not kick because it hurts Mommy’s body.” You can even fake an ouch, but not too overboard or it will add to the… Read more »

Erin
Guest

We’ve been doing time-outs with my son since he could crawl and understand “no.” If we said “no” one time, and he kept going, we’d pick him up and hold him in a chair, far from what he was getting into, and say “time out.” We weren’t rough, but it limited his freedom and he got frustrated. It took a few days, but he learned to stay away from things that could be dangerous. (Like pulling up on the TV). We’ve continued doing time outs in our lap even though he might be able to sit on his own, and… Read more »

Alissa
Guest
Alissa

My son is 19 months and we’ve been doing time out for a couple months.  I do it in my lap, sitting facing out, and usually I sit on the floor and face the wall so it’s not quite as interesting for him.  It’s definitely advantageous for us, because we can do time out ANYWHERE with this method, instead of trying to find a step to sit on.  He gets a warning (no whining or you will go to time out).  Then he gets an explanation before time out as to why we’re there.  Then he gets an explanation after… Read more »

Bekki
Guest
Bekki

We just started doing time outs with our 22 month old twins. We’ve done it just a handful of times (all for the same thing, being rough with the dog). At this point, I don’t do it for a set amount of time. I tell them “we do not hit/kick/whatever the dog, you will be in time out until I come and get you.” I have to re-put them in the spot a couple of times. As soon as they stay put for like 15-30 seconds, then I cheerfully say “ok, time out is over. Remember we do not *blank*… Read more »

Amy
Guest

Like I said on the cat post the other day, I started TO with my kids at 12 months (I am mean!) – NOT for punishment, but to break the cycle of behavior – reinforcement – behavior – reinforcement – behavior – etc. It’s just like you said – “I think the BREAK aspect of the time-out — a minute or two to calm down and take a breather — is what HE needs, and why it works for him.” That works very early for most kids. I also would stay with my kids (from about 12 months until 15… Read more »

Leigh
Guest
Leigh

We started time outs at 8 months, for biting while nursing and still do it the same way. Monkey is 19 months. I put him down, away from me. Sometimes just on the floor, but often around the corner. I like the non-negotiability of just moving him and it has done a good job of breaking the behavior(s).

Sharon
Guest
Sharon

The holding (gently but firmly) in a lap or chair is what we did with our first at that age too.  Another thing that seems to be working better with our second son is the “gate” method — we have one baby gate, and when he needs a time-out (but is too young to sit still) we put him on one side of it and the adult on the other, tell him he’s in time out and can’t be with mommy for a minute, and go about our business for 1-2 minutes.  He can do whatever he wants except get… Read more »

Calee
Guest

We made (and make) our daughter stand in the corner for timeouts. When she was very little I would hold her hands with her facing the wall and slowly count to 30. She would kick and scream but it communicated the behavior was a no go. I went with the corner approach because it works when you’re not at home whereas a step or chair doesn’t come with you.

Angie
Guest
Angie

MiM (a.k.a. Laura) who authored the blog Morphing Into Mama had a great essay about this very topic a few years ago. She wrote specifically about hitting/kicking during diaper changes and ways to respond to it without spanking. It was so good that I remembered it even though 1.) I am not a mom 2.) it was four years ago. I tried googling it but it seems MiM went password-protected. Boo. She advocated saying something like, “I don’t like to be kicked/hit” and briefly leaving the room to drive home the point, but there were tips on how to do… Read more »

Megan
Guest
Megan

Is there a “Teeth are not for biting” book? Because my husband’s godsend freaked me out with his phase where all humans were chew toys. Would be a great gift for him.

Lisa M
Guest
Lisa M

I forgot one of the most basic aspects of “time-outs”…remembering to give “time-ins” as well. So every time you can make it through a diaper change with no kicking, reward her good behavior with a special story, or a even a high-5. Just some sort of acknowledgement that you noticed, and she did a good job.

And make sure you repeat the rules before any activity that you would anticipate bad behavior; i.e. remind her before a diaper change that kicking isn’t nice, and will result in a time-out…but she can avoid the time-out by not kicking.

Heather
Guest
Heather

Thanks so much for answering my question!!! I will check that book out. I get the same vibe from her that you did with Noah at that age, seriously – She would just get up the second after you sit her down and she is absolutely HATES being held down – so that would end up in a bigger battle that just the kicking. or, more likely, she would just try to climb the stairs (that is FUN!!!) and then that would be battle.

Julie
Guest
Julie

I’ve been having a lot of problems with kicking during diaper changes lately too. (My son is 18 months old, and I’m also pregnant, so being kicked in the belly is Not Fun.) What seems to work for us is a two pronged approach. First, if he kicks when I’m changing him he gets one warning and an attempt at distraction. (“That hurts mommy. Please lay still and look at this toy/diaper cream/random piece of junk that was on the changing table.”) If he keeps kicking I then stop in the middle of the change and ignore him. Usually I… Read more »

Emily
Guest
Emily

@Megan: There’s a whole series of the books. If you go to Amazon and look for one title you’ll probably be able to find them all.

Kati
Guest

I’ve been doing TO’s with my 17-month-old for about a month. She understands the word “No” and will react to it (usually she cries and throws a short tantrum). So, if her behavior continues I put her in this spot in our kitchen and will stand with her. While she is in TO I explain to her what she did was wrong. I’ve found that if I put her hand on my cheek she listens better and gets over her fit.

Liz
Guest

My daughter (who is28 months) would kick me too while I was changing her diaper. I constantly said “No kicking/kicking hurts/ouch/makes Mommy cry” etc. She thought it was funny and no matter how many times I tried to correct her behavior, she kept at it. Although she did get what I was saying because she’d kick her legs and say “Hurts Mommy, ouch.” Now we’re potty training so that’s over with. As for time outs, we have a small step in our kitchen/living room area that I use. If she does something wrong (screeching at the top of her lungs… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I don’t know if anyone is still reading this but just in case they are I had to share. I know Amy said that 18 months is too young for time-out but on the advice of my pediatrician I successfully used them with my 15 month old. I was having a similar problem with my son and biting. It started when he was about 14 months old and the endless repetitions of “no thank you, no biting” did nothing. I would try to hold him away from me when I could see he was getting ready to bite but he… Read more »