Timeouts just don't work in my house. Maybe it's because I've never been a big fan of the discipline method and my halfhearted attempts to employ it have been obvious to my two kids, ages 6 and 3. Maybe it's because my daughter, who has hated being alone for even a minute pretty much since birth, has always flat-out refused a timeout that wasn't taken within an arm's reach of me, a distance that is also ideal for continuing whatever behavior initially earned her the punishment.
So if you're not a timeout kind of mom, besides some old-school corporal punishment (we kid; seriously, hitting is never cool), how do you discipline your little kids, who don't have phones and cars to confiscate or a social calendar they don't want to miss out on? First, always remember to calm yourself first before administering any form of punishment. Take a few deep breaths to lower your natural fight or flight reflexes. Keep your tone even and your face neutral. Then try one of these timeout alternatives that actually work . . . at least some of the time.
1. Take a tandem timeout.
The isolation that comes with a timeout can be hard for kids who dislike being alone and/or crave your approval and love . . . in other words, all of them. Instead, take what child development specialists call a "time in." Find a safe, quiet spot and go there with your child. Support your child while they calm themselves. Give hugs. Discuss the behavior and alternatives that would have been better. Let them know that everyone makes mistakes, and you're there for them through good times and bad.
2. Redirect behavior.
It's hard to talk a small toddler out of a tantrum once they're in the throes of one. Instead, when you see a problematic situation arising, try to redirect them before it escalates. Kids fighting over one toy? Try to introduce another activity right when you see the conflict beginning. Toddler's favorite park swing occupied? Remind them how much fun the slide is, too. You know your child's triggers, so anticipate when there might be a problem, stay alert to your child's emotions, and help them find a happier situation.
3. Take a minute to meditate.
My 6-year-old daughter has always been a drama queen, and she still can throw a pretty epic temper tantrum about things that seem ridiculous to me. If you have an equally emotional child, consider helping them calm themselves through simple meditation or breathing exercises. Slowly count to 10 together, or take five deep breaths. Close your eyes and imagine yourselves in a favorite vacation spot or park. Changing an angry child's mindset can really be that simple and quick.
4. Do something funny.
When my 3-year-old son is in the middle of a freak-out session, I can usually break it by getting down on his level, making silly faces, giving him a good tickle, and throwing some funny sound effects in there, too. It's a distraction tactic that nine times out of 10 immediately changes his mindset to a happier, more friendly one.
5. Remove yourself.
If you're part of the conflict with your kid, instead of putting them in a timeout spot or their rooms, physically remove yourself from the situation instead (assuming, of course, that you're leaving your child in a safe place, not surrounded by kitchen knives or next to an oven set to broil). The time apart will give you both a chance to calm down, but it removes the feelings of forced isolation and rejection that can come with a timeout.
6. Offer choices.
Put your child in timeout, and it can be really hard to then make them feel any kind of remorse over the behaviors that landed them there. They feel that they've already paid the price for them. Instead, use conflict as a teaching opportunity about how to problem-solve. You're mad because I won't buy you the $40 dinosaur at Target? How about we let you choose either a box of popsicles or a dollar-bin toy instead? You don't want to watch your sister's show? Would you rather read a book with Mommy or play a game outside with Daddy? By empowering your child to make better choices, you're teaching them how to avoid problems in the future, not just reacting to current ones.