Tips For Using Time-Out With Toddlers

“My 2 year old has started crying a LOT the past few days.  Over every little thing.   Nothing is different physically or environmentally that I can tell.  He already has his 2yo molars, too..   He’s just been crying about everything that he doesn’t like, with some pretty good tantrums thrown in the mix of the average crying.  I tried holding him in timeout (he’s never stayed in time out on his own so far), but he screamed and threw a serious tantrum the whole time.. which wouldn’t be a problem for me except that I have to take care of the other kids, too!  I tried holding him in our time-out spot until he was done with the tantrum so I could praise him for being happy, etc., but after 40 minutes of continuous screaming, my baby was also crying, needing to be fed, and the other young kids had destroyed the basement.   At that point I just took him to his bed to finish his crying fit.   So I’m thinking the holding in time out option might not work for us.  Yesterday and today I’ve started just taking him to his room when he starts having a breaking down crying fit.   What would you suggest?   Do you think I should just take him to his room every time he cries?  Or should I try to comfort him out of crying (but not give him what he was crying for)?    I get mixed up in the tough love area – is it better to just have an automatic consequence, or is that cold for a crying 2yo?   Any thoughts would be appreciated.”

I wish I could be there to witness this scene, but since I can’t be I will make my suggestions on what the situations seems like to me.
     Your situation is very difficult because of your baby also having needs.  However, your 2-year-old should be able to master going to time-out to calm down.  This skill is totally appropriate for his age.  40 minutes is a long time, but he is also seeing that he doesn’t have to control himself if doesn’t have to learn how to do time-out.  He needs to learn how to say okay and take verbal cues from you too.
     One thing about doing the gentle hold on time-out is that you have to ask your child softly his ear if he wants you to let go, and then tell him you want to let go too, but can’t until he stops crying.  As soon as he tries to stop crying, stop holding him and praise him for choosing to stop.  It is possible that he thinks he can’t stop for some reason until he gets his way.  Two year olds are all emotion driven and often don’t recognize that they control their emotions.
These are my suggestions for you:
    1. Time-out should not be in a public area of the home.  If your child has an audience he will be far less likely to choose to be calm.
    2.  Maybe have time-out in his room, in your room, or another place where you can close a door.  My last child liked to get off of time-out in the location we had designated time-out to be for my other children so we moved it to my bedroom.  I liked my bedroom because there were no toys.  Time-out time shouldn’t seem like a reward at all.  I would gently take my child’s arm and lead him to the time-out stool in my room and tell him that as soon as he was calm I would come back to get him.  The main point is for the child to choose self-mastery; to choose to get calm.  Then I said that if he didn’t choose to sit on the stool then I would have to close my bedroom door.  But, as long as he sat on the stool and tried to get calm then the door could stay open.  This method was very effective for him.  It was the only time I had to handle time-out this way.
*  I wouldn’t begin using the door system unless the child won’t stay after being held there a few times.  All my other children chose to stay there.  This son however, needed to be more removed from the family and needed to see more automatic results of his consequences (the door open or closed).
    3.   Be sure to always use a calm voice and get calm before you ever touch him to move him to time-out.  He will feel your tension and become insecure if you are tense or stressed when you gently take him to time-out and when you are talking to him.  People sense more than we realize.  Crying never hurt anyone.  Don’t let it hurt you.
    4.  Use a cue word for him….So, each time he starts crying or whining (this is probably just attention seeking, but could be general toddler anxiety too.) say the exact same thing to him; such as, “Billy, you are crying.”  After saying this gently take him to the time-out place and remind him of what he has to do to be ready to talk to you again.
* Never leave him on time-out too long.  Be as good as your word.  Come back when he is calm and praise him.
    5.  Make sure you talk about the situation when you come back.  Very simply do a corrective teaching and then don’t forget the practices.  For small children practicing is very important for learning new skills.  If the problem was crying, then you will want to discuss what led to the crying.  When you find out he didn’t get something he wanted (which is a no answer) then practice saying okay to no answers.  When you find out he didn’t know how to ask for help or wasn’t being heard, then practice asking for help etc.  Tell him just what to say and then show him how you will respond if he says things the way you taught him.
    6.  Remember part of  your teaching was showing him how you would respond.  Now you have to respond that way, or you will create more frustration for your child.
Toddler years are difficult.  Toddlers are learning to communicate their needs and frustrations to parents and usually find themselves very anxious.  To help them with their anxiety we can teach them how to say okay and we can respond better to their needs.  It is really common for moms to get spread really thin and not be able to notice everyone’s needs.  If you see yourself getting into this, try to let a few other details, like phone calls etc go for a while until you and your child is communicating better.
Trust me on this one. At times I have allowed myself to get stuck on a phone call and not pay close attention too.  There is never enough time in the day for it all.  Some things have to go, even if they are mom or dad’s fun things.  The 2 year old can’t wait, because he doesn’t understand why he should.
Hope this helps!

By Nicholeen Peck, BBC television star and author of Parenting A House United, and Londyn LaRae Says Okay.

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