Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Why the Anti-Time Out People are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Supernanny, Jo Frost

I’ll admit that 90% of my parenting philosophy comes from Supernanny, because watching a reality TV show is easier than reading a book or taking a class, and you get to look at cute kids acting like animals, which is always fun. What I love about the show is that Jo Frost, the Supernanny, only has about 3 techniques, which work 100% of the time and turn even the nastiest little monsters into complete angels with only four commercial breaks in between.

Sign me up!

I’ve since learned that everything the Supernanny advocates is a tried-and-true parenting method, like Ferberizing, but she doesn’t use the real terms so it seems like she came up with them herself. Oh, those clever Brits!

One thing Jo does in every single episode is give Time Outs. She puts an adorably British twist on it, sending kids to “the naughty ____” [chair/step/Barcolounger]. But it’s a time out. The kid does a bad thing, you make them sit still for a bit, then you all move on with your lives.

MonopolyIt makes sense. I mean, that’s the world we live in, right? Commit a crime, do the time. Scare them straight. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

That’s what happens to grown-ups, after all. You do a bad thing and we punish you by making you go away for a while. First-degree murder gets you 20 to life. Raiding the cookie jar gets you one minute for every year old you are. Sounds fair to me.

Or so I thought. It turns out there’s a whole anti-Time Out movement that wants me to feel guilty for being so barbaric and heartless.

Well, fine. I’ll do what I do any time someone criticizes my parenting skills. I’ll listen closely to their arguments, ponder them calmly and rationally, then shoot them down one by one.

It’s time to play Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Hit me with your best shots, anti-Time Out people. I’m ready for you!

ARGUMENT: The child is only acting out because his needs aren’t being met.

Which need are we talking about here? The need to beat the shit out of his sister? (For the record, my kids rarely hit each other, so I must be doing something right.)

Most of the arguments in my house happen when one kid wants the other kid’s toy. I calmly give them a list of options — ask for a turn, find another toy, come up with a way to play together — and once in a while, one of those methods actually works. More often, they just grab the toy and run. That’s when they get a time out.

I think some people confuse needs with wants. Most kids want everything, all the time. Any rational parent is going to push back. What if I got mugged by a junkie? Would you tell me not to call the police? Or would that fail to address the criminal’s need for crack?

You want to talk about needs? Let’s talk about my need for peace and quiet. When my kid’s need to yank the cat keyboard from her brother’s hands infringes on that, then my need trumps hers.

ARGUMENT: You’re treating the symptom, not the underlying cause.

When I have a cold, I take cough medicine. It doesn’t make the cold go away, but it eases my discomfort for a bit, and that’s all I expect it to do.

Putting a kid in a time out may not teach them never to misbehave again, but it keeps them quiet for a few minutes, and sometimes, that’s good enough.

Kids do bad things — always have, always will. It’s natural, it’s healthy. They’re testing their boundaries — and my patience. You have a method that makes a toddler never want to take a toy away from another kid, ever? Great, I’d love to hear it. Until then, I’ll take the 3 minutes of silence as the next best thing.

ARGUMENT: Kids can’t understand consequences until they’re 4 or 5 years old.

Most kids can’t read until they’re 4 or 5 either, so should I not allow my children access to books? Should I not teach them how to spell their name or that “J” says “juh”? Trust me, if I put them in enough time outs, they’ll start to make the correlation way ahead of whenever a psychologist thinks they’re able. And won’t I be proud!

Nobody ever says of a violin prodigy, “Man, their parents must be so cruel, shoving that instrument into their hands at such a young age and forcing them to practice.” You just enjoy the music and the cuteness, right?

Well, I’m creating discipline prodigies, so sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor, world. You’re welcome.

ARGUMENT: Redirecting is a more effective method of curtailing bad behavior.

Some people say that the best way to handle bad behavior is to remove the child from the activity and get them interested in something else. It’s certainly quicker than forcing everyone through the several-minute ordeal (those of you without kids, trust me: every minute feels like an eternity) of a time out.

Really? Ignoring the problem is your solution? Forget “redirecting”. This is avoidance. And since when is that a psychologically healthy way of dealing with a problem?

What’s wrong with telling a kid he did something bad? What message is he going to get if I redirect him instead? “Hey, I saw you hit your sister. Wanna come over here and play with my iPad?”

chair, time out

Misbehave in our house, and you’ll get… The Chair!!!

ARGUMENT: You’re withholding love from your child in order to teach them a lesson.

Damn right I am. They’re screaming their heads off and driving me nuts. What’s the appropriate amount of love to show them at that moment? Once they’ve calmed down and done their time on the chair, I always tell them that I love them and I think they’re good kids, but that [x] behavior was unacceptable.

Don’t worry. My kids get plenty of love from me, and they’re smart enough to realize (or they will be eventually) that it’s love that makes me sentence them to time outs.

I’m not claiming that time outs are perfect or even perfectly effective, but as a parent, I need to do something to keep my kids off the path to hoodlumhood. So until someone comes up with a cure for childhood misbehavior, I’m sticking with them.

******

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83 comments on “Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Why the Anti-Time Out People are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

  1. I am a time-out believer! When I hear people criticize time outs though it’s usually because they think its not a real discipline. That it isn’t harsh enough, that it doesn’t work etc. Why don’t they just get up from time out etc.

    I really enjoyed your reply to the argument of “You’re withholding love from your child in order to teach them a lesson.”
    And to add, if there was no time out, there would be yelling and screaming!

    • Ha! Time outs can be exhausting to implement — we do have some runaways from time to time, and I have to quietly pick the kid up and put them back in the chair, sometimes a dozen times or more. But what’s the harsher alternative? Spanking? Not only do I not believe in it (for many reasons), but I could never hit a child even if I wanted to. I’ve never picked on someone my own size, let alone someone much smaller than me. I would be the worst fight club member ever.

      • I totally agree. My mom was beaten up by her parents as *discipline* and she tried very hard NOT to bring that into her parenting-style with me. She was (mostly) effective and I sure appreciate not being punched in the face by my loving parent. However, her parents were so strict and mean that she went the other way a bit too much… I was a terror. Now, after teaching elementary school in the harsh inner city schools (plus at some private schools, I’ve done both), I ended up learning some great lessons about positive, effective discipline! Yeay! Thank goodness I didn’t end up having to use my kids as my learning ground (much) and am doing a decent job of keeping them in line, with love and firm boundaries. My wife was raised in such an amazing way by two wonderful parents, that she already had these skills. I continue to learn and grow from watching her deal with our feisty 1st born especially. That girl is a HUGE boundary-pusher, oh boy!!!

        Thanks for the great blog. I just discovered it this morning and am an instant fan!

  2. I’m a firm believer in time outs! A few years ago when I babysat my nephew, now eight, I had to use time out on him A LOT! Nose in the corner worked best for him as he literally could not sit still. I don’t believe in screaming at a child either (it only raises my blood pressure). But after times outs, I get an apology and a better behaved child…for a little while anyway.

  3. I respect your decision to use time outs, and I’m glad they’ve worked for you. But I don’t think that you need to generalize that success to everyone or degrade other methods. It just comes off as defensiveness, which you don’t need.

    Time outs are a time honored, constructive way for parents to handle misbehavior. I don’t use them, though. Instead, I look at each situation individually and address the behavior we see in a way that fits the situation. The primary reason why I work this way is because it fits my personality and my kids personalities.

    There are plenty of strategies that work for others that don’t work for me. That’s cool. They can do it their way, and I’ll do it mine. I don’t really understand why someone would criticize other methods of parenting when everyone is in a similar boat of “trying to make it work”

    It’s not like the wrong style gives kids cooties or anything. I don’t think my kids could come down with a bad case of the communicative time-outs from playing with yours. And if my kids are at your house (in theory, of course, because I don’t know you in person), you are welcome to use time outs on them. And then I’ll send yours home with a bad case of the situation-specific-discipline-cooties. And we can call it even.

    • Ha — it’s a deal. But I don’t think I was attacking other methods of parenting, just rebutting (OK, fine, smacking down) the criticisms I hear of mine. Honestly, your method doesn’t sound like my style and I’m not sure it would be effective with my kids, but if it works for you and your family, great.

      • I understand completely why a smackdown is so appealing! Everyone is so quick to tear each other down over the discipline issue! Even here on this post I see so many assumptions that no giving time outs equates to not disciplining or letting your kids go buckwild! I am tempted to parade my kids out in front of everyone as an example of my successful parenting! But I’ll spare them and spare everyone here.

        How can I say that my kids are good? They’ve never gotten into trouble at school or aftercare. Other parents invite them over for “a good influence.” They are best friends with each other, rarely fight (although they have their days! wooh!) and value family… I don’t know- they are kids, so you can’t expect perfection. If you think you’ve found perfection, you need to do some checking up! And brace yourself!

        I parent them differently. It works for us. It wouldn’t work for everyone. And my “different” methods do not equate to not doing anything. Nor am I parenting a classroom. I have just two kids, so I can do a little custom tailoring.

        Although my oldest daughter told me that what I do is similar to a time out. Essentially, we turn off the tv, radio, computer, what have you- kind of press the pause button on everything- and address whatever we need to address. Anything that will come back on will only come back on when we’re good and ready.

        I also do some preventative parenting. If I notice them generally feeling irritable, I’ll surprise them with some one on one time whenever the opportunity arises. That usually brings them back down to sensible fast. Especially if it is outdoorsy and active. But I think that most parents do this without considering it discipline.

        Anyway, no one asked to hear my side. And thanks for reading. I really enjoy your blog!

      • I may not have asked, but I’m happy to hear it. Your method does sound pretty similar to mine, but even if it’s different, if it works for you and your kids, then that’s great. My issue isn’t so much with people who parent differently as with people who attack my parenting.

        I have two kids, too. I don’t really know what would work for an entire classroom. That’s more discipline than I think I could handle, so my hat’s off to the teachers who keep kids in line, whatever method they use.

      • Dear Jerry: You are lucky that you children are ‘coachable”. I have a daughter and my dear friend has a son who were, in therapist’s language, incorrigible. No parenting style or discipline measures ever worked. My daughter and her son would look at us and say, “Make My Day” whenever we tried to invoke consequences for poor behavior. Twenty years later, her son is married and a full-time plumber and my daughter goes to college and is studying to be an ME, because she claims that she can’t stand being around ‘live’ people. We get along quite well today; and I am happy with this ending. Wishing you a happy holiday season, SJ

      • Thanks for the news flash from the future! :) I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call my kids coachable — they’ll probably always misbehave — but time outs help me keep order, and that’s what’s important. Here’s hoping they turn out OK in 20 years time.

  4. Love this. As with any form of discipline, consistency is key. You can’t sometimes give a time out and other times permit the bad behavior.

    This reminds me: One of my new mommy friends recently told me that her neighbor’s son was sent home with a letter from his pre-school ASKING PERMISSION to use time-outs (!!!) and to use the word, “no” as a form of discipline. They had to return a signed permission slip. Can you believe that?? I assume this is due to the “anti-time out” mafia. (I personally would pull my kid out of a school that had to ask permission to discipline my school as I trust a teacher is trained for this sort of thing. I know *I* am!)

    xoxo,
    TDR

    • LA schools are CRAZY. I remember someone telling me about a school that makes all the parents sign a pledge that they won’t let their kids look at any kind of screen (movie, TV, computer, iPad) until they’re at least 7 years old. I could write several posts about why I think that’s lunacy.

      My kids’ school actually doesn’t use time outs, and it makes a bit more sense to me in that kind of setting because of the embarrassment factor. I don’t know. All I know is, when they’re at school, they’re someone else’s problem, and if the teacher can keep them in line without time outs, that’s OK with me.

  5. As a middle school teacher, I deal with the result of the “kids don’t understand consequences until they are 4 or 5 years old” argument all the time. It sucks! We have parents of 12 and 13 year olds telling us that they aren’t surprised the kid is acting up in school because the kids is a terror at home too and the parents can’t control them. I get SO angry when I see parents not discipling their young children because I know that more than likely that kid is going to hate school and the authority at the school and probably drop out at 16 and quite possibly end up in prison at 17. I see it all the time. It is one of the most frustrating aspect of teaching the kids that I teach.

    • Yikes. I think we can all agree that time outs are better than no discipline at all. I’m amazed when I see a kid misbehaving and the parent just ignores it altogether. Some parents really suck.

  6. Jerry, if I could like this post more than once I totally would! Not disciplining kids is exactly why there are so many youngsters around who have no respect for anyone. Who on earth came up with this “Kids can’t understand consequences until they’re 4 or 5 years old” nonsense?! Even at a year and a half my little monster started to understand that biting another kid would make this one cry (thankfully, the biting phase only lasted a few months). He also knew that screaming and shouting would not get him what he wanted (although he kept trying and keeps trying to date). And I don’t say he’s an understanding-consequences prodigy.

    When he gets a time out, he has to sit on the stairs and we set the kitchen alarm. When it goes off he can come in and switch it off. We then sit down with him and talk about the misbehaviour. In the end it’s kisses and we-love-yous and, whatever the problem was before, at least he will have calmed down and be able to act rationally again. Time outs usually work a treat for us!

  7. As always, I love your post. I used time outs with my kids when they were under 5 – but when they were older than that, it was not a naughty corner or chair – I sent them to their room because I wanted a time away more than anything. I was a full time mom and I homeschooled for two years, so really, we needed time away to chill out. I respect people who chose different methods, but I will tell you, as an educator, I don’t have time, in the midst of a lesson, to stop and have a discussion with every child every time they chose not to follow class routines or expectations. I also cover the lunchroom and every day, the teacher I work with lays out the expectations and puts them on a overhead screen for students to refer to. Students know, that is the reminder – they know the expectation and the consequence – a timeout from recess. Across the hall, another teacher has limited expectations and her students are rude and disrespectful to me as I try to remind and encourage them to not: yell, throw things, exclude others, run around while eating…..you get the picture. Kids like boudaries and as my son used to say, “sometimes if you talk to much, I just stop listening”. Your kids are so obviously loved – by all the amazing things you do with them, they way you speak about them and they way that you tell them you care by having expectations.

    • “Sometimes if you talk too much, I just stop listening.” – I love this. I can see it in my own kids when I overexplain why I’m angry. They just start to lose focus and drift off. Another good reason for time outs – it gives me a minute to think of what I want to say to them and how to say it briefly. :)

      • Kyle also reminded me once that he could hear me just as well when I used a talking voice as when I yelled! This has been the most valuable lesson when I work in behaviour classes!

      • I agree! My older daughter (4) gets this glazed-over look that tells me I’ve once again explained too much, for tooooo long… Oooops.
        (The funny thing is, once of the hardest parts of being a SAHM to these two girls is all the TALKING I seem to *need* to do all day! Ironic.)

  8. As a Behavior Analyst, I simply have to comment on this. I spend my days working with what children want in order to get them to behave in certain ways, and to not behave in certain other ways, so of course I’m going to have some strong opinions on behavior modification techniques, like time out.
    You mentioned the argument that if a child is acting out, it is because his or her needs aren’t being met. It’s true that children may act out because of needs not being met. They also act out because their wants aren’t being met, they want something they can’t have, or they want something they can have, but are attempting to get it in the wrong way. There are different ways to handle these situations. You mentioned teaching your kids appropriate behaviors when they want the toy a sibling is playing with. This is a huge part of what we do in behavior analysis: teaching and reinforcing a more appropriate behavior.
    When it comes to treating the symptom, not the cause, I have to say, that is dead wrong. Time out removes the positive reinforcement that motivates the child’s behavior. Motivation for behavior include things like food (not that I’d suggest making a child go hungry as punishment), attention, and toys. If you allow access to positive reinforcement following a behavior, you are allowing that behavior to be reinforced, thus you are giving cause for the child’s behavior. By putting the child in time out, you are not allowing the behavior to be reinforced, thus preventing that behavior from being strengthened. Behavior Analysts call this behavioral extinction. (There’s more to time out than extinction, but it is a component).
    The argument that kids can’t understand consequences until 4 or 5 just makes me laugh. I work with 2 year olds who have autism, and consequences work for them. ‘Nuff said.
    When it comes to redirecting, thank you for recognizing that using a reward to redirect will only give the child motivation to misbehave again in the future.
    Finally, giving discipline does not mean withholding love. You still love your child, you just aren’t expressing it at that moment. Your child still knows you love him/her, too, she/he just needs some sitting time for a few minutes.
    My opinion, the methods you describe come from what I call being a natural born behavior analyst. Some people are just good at it. Some people learn it through behavior analysis psych courses. Some people have both. And other people stare in jealousy that you have things together, and will nitpick what is “wrong with it” to make themselves feel better about their own child who is a little too out of control.

  9. I have no idea how I feel about time outs yet as my Little Mister is only 13 months old. However, I am open minded about whatever will work in the long run – guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
    Sometimes I feel like people are raising their children all wrapped up in cotton wool, afraid to discipline them because they might cry or be scarred for life because someone told them a hard (but I think necessary) truth. I have seen adults who were raised like this and it’s really not pretty seeing grown people having bratty little tantrums because no-one told them no or explained the concept of consequences to them!!
    Kids do have developmental milestones we need to take into account when disciplining them (I studied half a teaching degree so that totally makes me an expert haha), but there’s no harm in modelling the right behaviour to them early on! Like you say, my Little Mister can’t read. He has no idea about letters or sounds, but he loves flicking through his books, looking at the pictures and hearing me read to him. Tell me he’s not better off than a kid who gets handed a book at 5 years old and told they HAVE TO READ NOW.
    Good on you for being so open about a controversial parenting technique. I’m not always that brave in my bloggings.

    • Thanks, Kez. That’s a good point, too. I see lots of grownups who throw tantrums and act out. I wonder if their parents were too easy on them as kids. Whatever else, I think punishing bad behavior lets the kid know that I don’t approve of it, and that’s the only way they’ll ever outgrow it.

  10. Just be careful not to stress the “age = minutes” part too much. My kids get one minute for every year of age in the naughty corner (Thanks, Jo Frost!) and if they haven’t finished their dinner and say they’re “full” they have to eat one more bite for every year.

    This only works for a while until THEY WILL USE IT AGAINST YOU. One day you will become very angry and they will sentence YOU to 40-something minutes on time-out. And trust me, you don’t want to be forced to eat 40 more bites of food.

    On a related note, this is a good time to start telling your kids you’re 29.

    • Oh, Karen!, how I miss you. This is fantastic advice, as always. I never thought of applying the age thing to how many bites they have to eat. Then again, they’re already too smart for the # of bites thing. If I say 3 bites, they take 3 tiny bites all at once, then grin and announce, “Finished!” Or they try to bargain me down to 1 or 2. On the other hand, they think 20 is the biggest number in the world. If I want them to finish their whole sandwich, I say, “You have to eat 20 bites!” So yeah, I think I’ll tell them I’m 20. They’ll totally buy that.

      • I should have added that those extra bites need to be “Monster Bites!” Yes, kids are like tiny little lawyers – a teeny bite of food fulfills the letter of the law unless you pass further legislation.

  11. I like your post, and I like your reasoning, but I don’t use time-outs. The main reason that I don’t use time-outs is because they are not effective for my kids. What ensues is a screaming fight fest. I don’t have the time, nor do I care to spend my time this way. We do “Time-ins” which basically remove both of us (I only have two kids, so this works best when BOTH of them aren’t melting down at the same time), sit silently for a while together, and then we discuss. For my kids, the sheer removal to their room/corner/outside chair was a futile exercise, and it heightened their emotions so severely. My kids are prone to anxiety, and I can’t purposely evoke their fear response this way. So, we address our expectations clearly, we let them know the behavior is inappropriate, and then… I mostly just bang my head against the wall and repeat, but I can’t then justify a punishment of a time-out if it won’t net me the change in behavior that I’m after (plus it’s painful to boot). But, like previous posters have said, do what works for you. Smack down whatever is necessary, I really like reading your thoughts.

  12. Nice one :) Just for the record, what are the other two parenting methods supernnany uses? We do not have this show here, but I guess it would be interesting to watch :D

    • We’re doing much better, but the kids have been having a lot of “accidents” lately. Accident isn’t really the right word, since I think they’re just being lazy in not going to the potty, or they’re having too much fun doing something else, or they’re trying to be defiant or make some kind of point. Just when I thought we were almost done, they opened a new front in World War Pee. :)

      On the plus side, Bennett finally pooped in the potty last night, and we practically had a mardi gras to celebrate. (He usually asks for a diaper to poop in, and we let him do that because it’s better than him pooping his pants.)

      • well, that is good, first successful such event :) I ended up hoping that by the time they go to school, it will be ok. It is at 6-7 here :D

  13. I was a pre-school teacher for a while. The pre-school I worked at did positive reinforcement which is code for no time outs allowed. It forced me to learn how to use it.

    I don’t disagree with time-outs for all the reasons you have listed here. They are very good ones. However, in defense of the no time-out method, most people don’t understand it and that’s why it doesn’t work out and you get bratty kids. The redirection and meeting needs is supposed to be done before the bad behavior occurs. Your (in theory) supposed to be able to spot it coming and sit *with* them and have a talk about it and what good behavior looks like and help find them something else to do (redirect). The theory is that young kids (the under 4 and 5 group) are still being socialized and learning appropriate behavior and that it is kinder and making better use of an opportunity to just teach them instead of punishing them.

    Ex: If Kid B wants Kid A’s toy, they *usually* say something to Kid b first like “gimme that!” or something, which would be the time to step in before the infraction occurs.

    I had a classroom full of 8 toddlers and never used a time-out. There were a few times I really wanted to but we all made it through the day ok with out it and they all did learn better behavior over time.

    Both methods work when done *properly* for most kids. I don’t judge parents who use either as long as they are both done with love. Time-out can be a great tool. I’ll probably use time-outs on my kids when I have them, but they’ll be more of a last resort.

    • I forgot with the no time-out theory you are supposed to almost obnoxiously praise good behavior when you see it, like when potty training a dog and it goes outside. This was my MOST effective tool in disciplining and it wasn’t even disciplining per-se. It was just showing them the behavior I wanted and telling them when they were doing it right.

    • Thanks for explaining that. I admit I didn’t totally understand the redirecting method. I agree that it sounds great in theory, and when possible, I do practice that myself. If my kids are arguing, I’ll step in and offer to read a book or try to interest one of them in doing a puzzle or something. But I also believe in letting them play on their own and work out their own problems when they can, so sometimes, I don’t step in until there’s already been an actionable offense. That’s when I use the time outs.

      I’m sure the dynamic is very different when you have 8 kids vs. just 2 like me. Also, teachers are likely to be more hands-on because it’s their job, and because they have angry parents to deal with if anything bad happens.

      • I think positive reinforcement is great, but I also think the effectiveness can vary between when parents use it and when teachers use it. Both of my kids display very good behavior at school and respond to their teachers’ directives well. I remember visiting my son’s preschool class and noticing how well his teacher’s tactics worked on him. So of course, desperate to try something different, I started implementing them at home, with not as much success. I chalk part of this up to kids feeling more comfortable to misbehave with their parents because if we have done our jobs well, they know that no matter how much they mess up, we will still love them. It’s that age old problem of “my kids behave for everyone but me.” It is one of those things we parents have to learn to deal with, and sometimes accept. As Jerry said, kids are going to misbehave. It’s normal. And as long as we parents make sure to love them unconditionally and find a well-intentioned way to teach them consequences, responsibility, and respect, things usually iron out okay, regardless of what method(s) we choose. But I do thank God everyday for the wonderful preschool teachers we have had and all they have taught my children. I have been lucky that a lot of that does carry over into our home.

    • Positive reinforcement, means praising good behavior and not giving attention to bad. Time outs and positive reinforcement actually work very well together. Time outs are a form of ignoring bad behavior. Time out is also accepted by as legitimate within attachment parenting circles. A key stone of time outs, when practicing attachment parenting, is to put the child where they can see you but do not give them attention i.e dont close them off in a room and ignore them until time out has finished. Always explain to the child why they are in timeout (my daughter often gets told she just needs to sit until she calms down). And make sure after wards that the child knows you love them.

      • Funny, I’m not at all into attachment parenting, but I do administer time outs the way you describe. I don’t lock the kids in their room away from me. I sit them down in the same room I’m in. And I always talk to them afterward, make them repeat why they were punished then tell them I love them.

  14. “Hey, I saw you hit your sister. Wanna come over here and play with my iPad?”
    hahaha most epic sentence xD..loved this post. I think there are many ways to discipline kids, but I also believe that a time-out works great (when executed properly ofcourse) :)

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  16. The mom of the twins I nanny for doesn’t believe in time outs, (or reprimanding, making them use words, or apparently potty training since I’ve been trying to get her to buy underpants for 6 months now) and so I’ve invented the “feel better chair” for times when one of the kids has gone to the dark side: They get to sit on the feel better chair until they calm down. Totally not a time out. Really. Completely… different. And stuff.

    • That is brilliant! I mean, parents are entitled to set their own discipline rules (or even, shudder, not set any if they really don’t want to), but I don’t know how a parent expects you to deal with their kids all day if you can’t discipline them. You’ve found a very sneaky (and hopefully effective) solution.

  17. I like it! Thank you for NOT making me look like a mad woman for using a somewhat outdated method. You are right, kids are kids, and they will always misbehave!

    • Honestly, if there’s a reason it’s seen as outdated it’s probably just because people want to sell parenting books. That’s why there will always be new techniques for disciplining kids. But this is one case where I say why mess with what works?

  18. Well-written!

    I wish the rest of my family would do well, any sort of discipline with my son. I’m a single (but getting married next year! Yay!) mom, I had my son at 19, and live with my parents and sister. As sweet and cute as he can be, he’s a total monster, ESPECIALLY when it comes to meals. All he wants to eat is McDonald’s (and that gets reinforced by my parents, as they “treated” him several times a week from age 2 until October, when he turned 4 and I put my foot down and they finally respected my wishes) and now he even refuses anything that isn’t yogurt or that crap. I’ve tried everything at this point, and now he’s starting to get sick all the time and I don’t know what to even try anymore. Time-outs cause arguments, trying to feed him something else leads to a loud, screaming child demanding what he wants and accusations that I’m starving him and that “McDonald’s isn’t actually that bad” has been used as a defense more times than I can be royally arsed to remember.

    I don’t know why I’m writing all this now to you, but maybe, just maybe you can help. I’m at my wit’s end. Thanks so much.

    • I wish I could help you, Liz, but the reason I’ve never done a “How to Get Your Kids to Eat” post is that I have absolutely 0 advice on the subject. My kids are terrible eaters. They have the same 3 or 4 things over and over.

      Incentives help a little bit, like telling them they can only have dessert if they eat all their dinner. But as I type this, my son just decided he’d rather have no dessert than have to finish 1 strawberry and 2 chicken nuggets. Oh well, I tried.

      I agree you shouldn’t let your parents take him to McDonald’s that much. If he thinks he’ll eventually get McD’s, that could be why he doesn’t eat much at other times. If he knows all he’s getting is your cooking, eventually he’ll cave… at least, that sounds logical. I’m still waiting for my kids to cave when it comes to my food. :)

    • The most comforting words I’ve read as a parent were from Ruth Yaron in the Super Baby Food Book: “A healthy baby will not starve itself.” To me, that means that you don’t have to worry about your kid starving to death because they have different preferences. If you feed them, and they are hungry, they will eat.

      The problem, really, is that he has learned that he will get his way if he raises enough fuss. It’s hard enough for you to ignore the fuss and carry on with your own plan, but it’s nearly impossible when other people will step in and undermine you.

      You may be able to do it, through strong will, patience and determination. Maybe a few standoffs will be enough to spark some change. Maybe you’ll find other things you both like. Maybe he’d like to help cook? Sometimes that helps.

      My backup for all things is this: “when all else fails, lower your standards.” In this case, I’d advise you to look closely at which things you can relax about and which things you need to focus on- lower your burden a bit and help you focus, if that makes sense.

      Anyway, please excuse me for stepping in with unsolicited advice! Good luck and congrats!!

    • As someone that has a background in medicine as well as education, I would recommend allowing children to use their senses to experience new foods. And not always at the dinner table. Go to the grocery store and let them pick a fruit or vegetable that looks good to them. Let them help you prepare it. Use positive re-enforcement to encourage them to touch it, play with it in their hands, smell it, lick it, put it in their mouth. If they don’t like it, it is ok for them to spit it out. But let them try it again another day. It is actually recommended for kids to play with their foods because it helps them experience something new in a way that feels safe for them. They need to have some sense of safety and control over what they put in their mouth. I always suggest not forcing kids to sit and eat something because this creates a negative experience with food and this will stay with them for a long time. It is all about creating a fun, positive experience with food, and using positive re-enforcement. Let them experiment and truly experience food at their level. Eating should not be a chore and a child should not be punished for not eating something that does not appeal to them at that moment. Just be positive, persistent, and creative and your kids will benefit from that!

      I know from my own experience as a child, I was a picky eater. I am what they now call a “super taster”. I hated most cooked vegetables and meat, but my parents would force me to eat some of what ever was served, and I was not allowed to leave the table until I did eat it. I spent hours at the table, and shed many tears. It created such a bad experience for me that I refused to eat many different foods, not because I had ever tried them, but just simply because of the bad experiences I had with food.

      Now, as an adult, I make a conscious effort to try new foods. It is difficult for me and I wish that I did not have this problem with food. I wish I could go to a restaurant and not have anxiety about whether or not I will find something on the menu that will appeal to me. I wish I were “normal”. I do have a passion for food and love to cook, but I won’t always eat what I cook. But I keep at it and in the past few years I have added a few new vegetables to my diet. And if I am not thrilled about a specific vegetable, I cover it in cheese sauce and try to eat it anyways, so at least I am getting my nutrients.

      I highly recommend vitamin supplements, and drinking milk with fats in it, such as 2% or whole milk. Not many people realize that the vitamins and minerals in milk are fat soluble and require fat in order to be properly absorbed. Anyways…this is enough of my rant on food. I wish you the best of luck and I hope your kids discover a love of foods.

      • Also – there is a really great documentary from the BBC titled, “The girl who never ate”. It is about a girl that was fed through a stomach tube since infancy, and is now, at 7, trying to learn how to eat. She is sent to a feeding clinic in Graz, Austria to learn how to be weened off of her feeding tube and start to eat a normal diet. The film shows a lot of great tips for parents that are struggling to teach their kids how to have a good relationship with food.

        You can find the video on youtube:

      • Thanks for the thoughtful note and the good advice. I sometimes think what I have is more of a “food-phobia”, because I really have a strong aversion to new foods, and I really don’t want to pass that on to my kids. I will try your idea about taking to the supermarket and letting them pick out their own new food. Can’t hurt!

  19. For me in dealing with DD, I didn’t change the toolbox because the arguments that might be true for a 10 mo. (Needs) won’t be for a 20 mo. And the peak effectiveness of time outs vs. Consequences depends upon the child’s age. A time out will get my 9yo. To calm down so we can discuss things rationally, while consequences get her to modify her longer term behavior. (You ignois red your chores to watch tv, so consequence is no tv all day tomorrow, next time she’ll rememberthe order in which things should go) with the 21mo, the consequence is for something immediate (you wrote on the wall, so no more marker) and the time out is to soothe hurt feelings after (I took your marker, you can’t have it back but you can be consoled by cuddling/nursing).

    The 9yo. Has forced me to adapt and get professional help to figure out what will work. So far, the baby has made life easier every step of the way, in comparison.

    • Good points – all kids are definitely different. Personally, I think the method of making the punishment fit the crime is great in theory, but it must be exhausting to always come up with new punishments… and I wonder if it’s frustrating to the kids that they never know what to expect. Hey, if it works for you, awesome. I don’t know if I have the energy for it. :)

      • I think that the part that makes the “making the punishment fit the crime” thing achievable is that you don’t have to make up punishments or make them fit the crime. Every crime has a natural punishment, which can be highlighted and used to great effect. And then you have the added fun of having nature on your side, so you don’t always have to be the one passing judgement. You are then free to make a hissy fit at the serious things and will likely be paid close attention to when that happens

        I don’t mean to declare anything right or wrong or better or worse, just doing some clarifying…

      • It works best with advance warnings, never threatening anything without follow-through, a uniform overall approach (so it’s predictable), and on things on which child is a chronic offender. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pointing out natural consequences at the right time: “you know we have to get this schoolwork/chore done today. If you keep goofing off/throwing tantrums, we’ll be here until dinner and you won’t have time to play.”

        When the natural consequence gets an “I don’t care,” we enter grounding territory. When you’re nine (and my kid–it totally didn’t work on me when I was that age because I would just sit there and read or write for weeks) not getting to go play with friends means more than sitting in your room for ten minutes when you would otherwise be doing schoolwork or helping vacuum. That one is especially important for us when time-outs are eating large chunks of the day.

        I try to only be as “mean” as my kids make me be to preserve my own sanity.

  20. I am so happy to have found your blog. You always post about things I already agree with, so it is nice to see that some of the parenting methods I plan on using when the time comes actually WORK.

    What I don’t understand is why so many parents out there are against disciplining their children. I work in a bank and so many times I see parents come in with their kids and they just let them run like little devils all over the lobby–and then ask for their sucker before they leave. I would be absolutely appalled to let my kids do this! My parents sure never let me and my brother do that. When we were in public, we were quiet and well-behaved and stood next to Mom in line. We could be loud and rambunctious and crazy at home in our playroom, because there’s a time and a place for everything. I was spanked and had time out and had discipline when I was a child–I’m now 24 and what I would like to describe as completely functional and successful. I’m married and we own our own home because we were DISCIPLINED enough to save our money in our early 20s instead of spending like crazy and blowing our paychecks on booze and entertainment. See, discipline helps! My parents tell me all the time how they were smacked and beaten with spatulas and all sorts of stuff, but somehow, they managed to be productive members of society AND went on to raise successful and productive children. (Not that I’m saying beating is okay, but you get my point.) Letting kids run around like crazy hobbits and giving them everything they ever want is a good formula for turning them into self-absorbed people who will never be able to hold a steady job because they have never known self-discipline and how to work well with others (i.e. share)…..all this being said in my humble opinion, of course.

    • Yeah, times have definitely changed. I don’t believe in spanking either, but there’s a happy medium when it comes to discipline, and it’s every parents job to figure out what it is for them. I’d be mortified if my kids ran around like maniacs in your bank. Thanks for the comment!

  21. This made me laugh really loudly. :D I’ve heard (vaguely) of the anti-time out movement, but I figure if it has any solid basis to it that my kids can try it with their kids. Right now I’m just trying to one-up my parents and do the anti-beating movement. Time outs work in our house.

  22. Time outs worked for me- and the best thing is, they worked quickly after handful, my son would cut out the offending behavior at warning #1 every time. (I will say that making sure kids are well-rested and well-fed, as well as removing attractive nuisances, greatly cuts down on bad behavior)

    My best anecdote about effective discipline comes from a friend of mine., They were driving their kids about an hour to get to an amusement park (which both the parents and kids were looking forward to, and the parents had prepaid admissions for everyone), and their kids were acting wretchedly in the car. More than halfway there, my friend tells the kids “if you don’t start acting better we’re turning around and going home”. They don’t believe him and keep on with the bad behavior. He turns around. they go home. They NEVER acted up again.

    BTW-I love the blog. I’d appreciate your thoughts on mine.

  23. Can you at least put a pillow on that time out chair and give your kids a snack on it?!?.
    Seriously – I enjoy reading your blogs but never did like homework (now I have to look “ferberizing” up). Great letters for scrabble though..

  24. Pingback: Why you might think my kids are little derelicts, but I don’t « My mom adventures in Fort Collins

  25. Excellent post !! Great arguments ! My kids are 24 and 21 and time outs didn’t work that well for me. What worked was counting to 3 . Man, I loved that method !

  26. I like time outs… I even give myself time outs (although sometimes that feels more like a little reward for mommy than anything else!) I also hope to one day have a couple of discipline prodigies although at this stage we don’t seem to be moving in that direction.
    Enjoyed the entertainment of a verbal ‘smackdown’. They’re one of my favourite things.

  27. I love this!!! You are so right! Kids these days are so disrespectful (not all of them but as a whole), I grew up with time outs and spankings when something really bad was done….I also grew up with respect for my elders, as well as my parents. We need to stop worrying about being friends with out child and discipline them! I understand that parents can take a spanking too far, I was scared to death of my dad cracking that belt, but you better believe I didn’t do the same thing twice! Thanks so much for writing this! More parents need to think like you!

    • Thanks. I’m not a fan of spanking personally. I use time outs as an alternative to that. But we do agree that discipline is important. Not disciplining your child at all is sure to mess them up a hundred different ways.

  28. Pingback: Is the Time Out the Most Effective Way To Discipline a Child — The Good Men Project

  29. I just found your blog and I love it. Thanks for this article. I am almost at the time out age now. I am a dance teacher and use it in my class when my ballerinas get out of line. Hopefully I can do the same with my little guy.

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