Time Out & Your Toddler: When Can You Start?

By Nancy Da Silva

Ninety percent of the time when your toddler misbehaves it’s because he wants attention. Think about it. In your busy life, you do your best to fulfill the needs of your child, your spouse, your work and if you’re lucky, yourself. You love your child but you feed him, clothe him and bathe him as part of the automatic everyday routine of being a mother. A lot of the time you find yourself having to make a conscious effort to remember to play with your child, to show him the affection you feel inside.

Yet the second he misbehaves, there you are scolding, yelling, maybe even spanking. He has your full attention. Not positive attention, obviously but to a toddler who feels insignificant in a world of grown ups, it’s better than no attention. So even though you scold him, he continues misbehaving because he knows you’ll always react.

So that’s where the concept of time out comes in. To a child who misbehaves to get attention there is nothing worse than sticking him in a corner, not allowing him to do what he likes and ignoring him. You’re not giving in to his negative behaviour.

Time out teaches him that you are not happy with him when he misbehaves. Because you’re not responding with attention, he’s left with the trying to achieve his second goal which is attention through gaining your approval. You put them in time out, either in a corner or in their play pen or a special chair and he may feel start to feel guilty about his behaviour. They have time to calm down and think about what they did to make mommy unhappy.

Also, time out gives you the time to calm down as well. You’re stressed and now your child has done something that has made you angry, putting him in time out gives you a chance to take a step back before you react angrily and do something you might regret. It also gives you the time to think of the best way to talk to your toddler so that he knows his behaviour is not acceptable.

Be prepared though that the first time you try a time out, your child will not be a happy camper, that is, if he even knows what’s going on at all. As Jessalyn, an assistant director for a preschool explains, she started using time out for her fifteen month old. He just “sat quietly and looked puzzled.”

Alternately, Carole, a 27 year old F&B Supervisor from Nashville, TN explains that her child’s reaction was “Not good. A lot of crying, beginning of temper tantrums.” It will take some repetition for the concept of time out to register with your toddler. He’s used to exploring the world around him and is goal oriented. He sees something, he wants it, he goes and gets it. If you try and stop him by pulling him away from his goal, he’ll simply leave where you put him and try again, so keeping him in time out becomes the priority with a toddler more than the purpose of time out itself, at least at first. Gradually, the reason you’re pulling him away or punishment will dawn, but until then, you might want to try placing him somewhere he can’t get out of himself like his play pen.

For Hilary, a 31 year old Renewable Energy Consultant from New England, “It depended on the child. My oldest got very upset. With the younger kids, they'd seen the other ones in timeout so they knew what was coming. A couple months for my oldest, immediately with the younger ones. Peer pressure isn't always a bad thing.”

You should mix up time out with positive reinforcement as well. Try and work in time where you interact and play with your child shortly after you’ve put them in time out so that they can understand that while negative behavior will not be acknowledged, positive behavior will be. If they apologize for what they’ve done and understand why they were punished, hug them and take a few minutes to just be with them.

So considering your toddler can’t really retain much at this age, is timeout even a viable method of discipline at that age?

It can be, with repetition and consistency. Your child will probably cry, wail, get angry, scream, but you must stick to your guns and keep him in timeout for the time you decided, usually a minute for each age.

Tammy, a 37 year old teacher from Washington explains, “Of course, they occasionally test the limits and need re-teaching.  I'm the queen of consistency, though... Nanny Fran would be proud! It gives us all a chance to regroup and calm down.  It's immediate feedback about their behavior.  Of course, sometimes they get up and just choose the behavior again and end out right back in time out.  I do hope, though, that it's teaching my children that when you're angry or upset, you don't just react, but remove yourself, calm down, think it through, then apologize for any poor choices.”

 Make sure that your spouse is on the same page. Timeout won’t work if when you put them there, your spouse caves and lets them out.

Carole concludes, “I think it is about consistency. My husband gives into his crying. When I am alone with him it is effective. The biggest thing is the patience and also, my son knows no matter where we are I will find a spot for time out and if it is in the corner of the grocery store, we will sit there and work it out before we go on.”

Think of timeout as a teaching tool rather than punishment. You’re teaching your toddler about the difference between bad behavior and good behavior and which one is the best way to achieve his goal of getting mommy’s attention and approval.

No votes yet


Sign in to leave a comment!

Today on JustMommies

CVS Health Makes a New Promise for Your Health

What’s the one wish people wish above all others? Find out how CVS Health helps make those wishes come true. CVS Health is proving it’s not just a corner drugstore. They’re an innovator, making health more affordable and accessible in surprising ways.

Bully-Proof Your Child

Bullying is one of those inevitable facts of life. As much as parents try to eliminate it, schools try to govern it...

Delicious, Kid-Friendly Recipes

While some parents boast that their kids happily devour bowlfuls of quinoa and kale and wash them down with a spirulina shake, most of us have kids who shun veggies and are definitely picky about what they'll eat.


From the Message Boards

Moms of Toddlers

When should nudity around the kids stop?

When will you no longer be nude around the kids? Alas, does it depend on whether they are a ds or dd...

Moms of Toddlers

possible hip dysplasia ?

Hi everyone :) I just have a quick question, I wasn't sure where to post this.I have a 13 month old...

Moms of Toddlers

We need help! - An app that helps parents

We've just got a mobile app ready that helps parents turning the everyday struggles (eating, dressi...

Moms of Toddlers

Can we talk about toddler sleep?

Ok so anyone else ever have a toddler (18 months) who still gets up like 6 times a night on average?...

Moms of Toddlers

Pretend play? Weird phase? What's going on??

The past few days my son has been pointing to pictures in books, toys, etc & saying "mama" & "dada"....

» Check out the friendliest message board for moms and moms-to-be!