6 Ways to Discipline Your Child Without Using Time-Out

Time-out isn't always the best discipline strategy.
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It’s the ultimate threat: “If you don’t stop right now, you’ll have to go to time-out.”  Often, just those words are enough to get your child to shape up and start behaving better.

When it doesn’t, though, you have no choice but to follow through on the threat to send your child to their room, a corner or another designated time-out location. And while it can be a very effective consequence, time-out isn’t effective in every situation.

Like other negative consequences, it should be used somewhat sparingly. If you’re putting your child in time-out a dozen times a day it will quickly lose effectiveness.

And of course, there will be times when you don’t have time for a time-out. If you’re rushing to get out the door to drop off the kids off at school in the morning, placing your child in a time-out isn’t an option.

Or, if your child is trying to delay his bedtime on purpose, time-out could feel more like a reward than a punishment.

Time-out isn’t always feasible in certain public settings either. If there isn’t a safe, quiet place to have your child sit by himself for a few minutes, you might need to look for a different consequence.

Here are six effective time-out alternatives.

Take a Time-In

The concept of taking a break together with your child is commonly known as a “time-in.” This can be effective when your child needs some help solving a problem, calming down, or dealing with his uncomfortable emotions.

It builds the relationship and fosters communication, strengthening the parent-child team rather than pitting them against each other. It doesn’t have to be a long break, just five minutes will do. The process of taking this break helps the child process their overwhelming emotions in a healthy way.

Taking a break involves stepping away from the activity when your child seems to be getting stressed out or overwhelmed. Then, spend a few minutes with your child to teach him a calming technique, like deep breathing.

This works well when your child is clearly having a hard time with the situation you’re in. If you’re at the museum or a crowded birthday party, a few minutes away from the action with you can help him settle down. Then, try again once he’s better equipped to handle the activity.

Go to a Comfort Corner

Of course, it’s not always feasible to drop what you’re doing to take a break with your child, not matter how much you want to. For the times that your child needs to calm down on their own, create a comfort corner.

This space doesn’t have to be large. But, it should include comforting items like soft cushions, books, quiet toys or art supplies such as crayons as a doodle pad.

When your child starts to become overstimulated, suggest she head to the comfort corner to calm down. The comfort corner should give your child privacy, but it shouldn’t be isolated; try the corner of the living room or the basement, if that’s where your family hangs out.

The purpose of a comfort corner is to teach your child how to regroup and refocus without feeling isolated or rejected. It’s meant to be a positive experience and can be a helpful way to prevent your child from committing a major rule violation.

Use Redirection

If your child is jumping on the couch, skip making a scene and sending him to time-out. Instead, try some positive discipline.

Redirect him by saying, “You are getting to be such a good jumper! But you could get a big boo-boo, so let’s keep jumping to the floor.”

So rather than tell your child what he can’t do, tell him what he can do instead. Giving him a safe and healthy alternative can channel his energy into something positive.

Offer a Choice

The purpose of time-out is to help your child make better decisions, so empower them to actually do that by giving her choices to make the situation better. Let her make the decision between two to three acceptable alternatives for righting the wrong.

Help her take responsibility for the situation, whether it means cleaning up the mess, apologizing for her actions or completing the task you’ve given her to do. Just make sure you can live with either choice.

Say something like, “You didn’t do the dishes after dinner like I asked you to. So I want you to go do the dishes now and when you’re done, you can either clean the bathroom or vacuum the living room. You pick.” Assign extra responsibilities or help your child perform restitution.

Take Away a Privilege

Logical consequences can teach valuable life lessons. If your child didn’t put his bike in the garage like you asked, take away his bicycle. If he refuses to turn off his video games, take away his electronics.

Just make sure you don’t take away those privileges for too long. Usually, 24 hours is long enough for your child to learn from his mistake.

Allow a Do-Over

If your child’s rule violation doesn’t hurt anyone and it isn’t particularly serious, turn it into a teachable moment by showing him what to do instead.

If you call him for dinner and he races to the kitchen by jumping over the coffee table and knocking over the end table, have him try it again. But this time, make sure he uses his walking feet.

If he’s bossy, impatient, demanding, or hyperactive, a do-over can help him practice self-discipline. It will also show him that taking a short-cut won’t necessarily get him what he wants. 

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