When Time Outs No Longer Work

by Melanie Edwards on November 12, 2009 · 8 comments

in preschoolers, toddlers

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Time Out ChairPhoto credit: sean_alexander

There are many forms of discipline and punishment that parents use with their children. In our house, we’ve used the time out method, the just talking method, the redirecting method, and we’ve even yelled at times out of losing our patience. Hey, it happens, right?

But, lately, we’ve come up with a new system for helping our nearly-four year old daughter behave better. Ok, “we” as in the husband came up with the idea and I take half the credit since I use the method. What’s his is mine, isn’t it?

We recently turned our guest room into a play room since we don’t often have guests. (Because she needed just one more space in the house to clutter up.) The reality is that we all wanted a family “fun” room and wanted her room to be more of a tranquil space for relaxation and rest. So, we now have a play room and because she helped remodel the space, she has taken full ownership of that room. It is – quite frankly – her play room.

Because of that, it has also become the one true thing that she hates to not have. Therefore, we have the following hanging up on the door to that room.

Behavior Board Chart for Preschooler

What you see is a dry-erase board with sad faces on it. Normally, there are 3 happy faces on there. It’s sort of like a behavior chart.

How it works:

  1. If baby girl does something naughty or doesn’t listen, we give a warning. If she still doesn’t listen, she gets a sad face.
  2. After 3 sad faces, we close the door to her playroom.
  3. She must earn back her 3 happy faces with good behavior. We try to make the acts equal; that is, if she lost a happy face because of whining, we’re not expecting she clean up her room to earn it back. A smaller act that is comparable will do. On the other hand, if she lost a happy face because she threw a tantrum or disrespected us, then the act to earn it back must be equally as big.
  4. Once she earns her 3 happy faces back, she gains access to the playroom again.
  5. And the cycle continues.

Why this works:

  • She is seeing a visual of her mistakes as well as her achievements.
  • My girl needs more than just stickers as an incentive.
  • The playroom is a place of her own that she enjoys so it’s a true punishment for it to be taken away versus just being scolded or sitting in time out.

Of course, explanations, warnings, and the “after-talk” is all a part of this to help her understand what happened, why it happened, and how she should act next time.

We’ve really seen it work over the last few months. She even goes through periods of weeks at a time without losing a happy face.

What methods do you use for disciplining your preschooler or toddler?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

rachel matos November 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

well, my son is already 10 but when he was younger, we did a chart like this with stars. he loved counting those stars and hated to see them go. now at 10, im very happy to say that all i really have to do is count to 3. it still works because ive never gotten to 3. thank goodness because i dont have a plan for it yet. ‘3’ remains a mystery. lol


Melanie (Modern Mami) November 15, 2009 at 6:59 am

@rachel matos, ha! That’s funny. My mom used to count to 3 also. I wonder if she ever had a plan for what would happen at 3? I bet her plan would’ve been a spanking on the butt cause that’s how things were done back then.


Clara November 13, 2009 at 11:13 pm

We have implemented a similar approach but with stickers. It’s like a game, a motivational but also rewarding or not for our son Nico. It has worked. All you need is patience…


Melanie (Modern Mami) November 15, 2009 at 7:00 am

@Clara, See that’s the thing. The stickers just don’t work for my little girl…they are not enough motivation for her. But, this approach has worked for us. Kids are so funny…


Clara November 17, 2009 at 2:14 pm

@Melanie (Modern Mami), funny and amazing! Son tan curiosos y tan creativos that all they do in a way teaches us moms a lesson.


Bev November 14, 2009 at 3:35 am

I like this idea, although we don’t have a playroom to close off, but what I am really pleased about is the acknowledgement that the time out doesn’t always work. I have read this suggestion so many times, but it has never worked in our house and has cause me so much frustration.


Melanie (Modern Mami) November 15, 2009 at 7:02 am

@Bev, I’m glad this was useful for you. Every kid is different and time outs just don’t affect some kids. Even if you don’t have a playroom, try finding something that your child values a lot. That may be the “thing” to take away.


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