Struggling with Timeout? Try These Alternatives

Slight Alternatives to the Traditional Timeout

Tammy Linn had used timeouts on her first two daughters with great success. Her youngest, four-year-old Ella remained a challenge. Energetic and head-strong, Ella’s curiosity was often at odds with Mom’s rules. The more Tammy tried to reign in Ella, the stronger Ella’s need to assert her independence. Ironically, timeout allowed Ella to do just that. Ella learned quickly that the more she resisted (refusing to go to timeout, escaping timeout), the harder Mom had to work too.

Tammy’s not alone. While timeouts are considered quite effective, they don’t always provide the best solution. If your child struggles to sit still, compliance can be difficult. A challenging child, like Ella, may find it exciting to run Mom ragged. Some children are extremely sensitive to timeout isolation. Some parents find just as distressing. Any of these scenarios can increase frustration levels which in turn reduces the likelihood a timeout is applied correctly. Even if timeout works wonders in your household, an alternative tactic may offer a better fit in certain circumstances.

Here are five “timeout twists” parents, teachers and specialists have used with great success.

1) Self-Soothing Timeout

Consider how difficult it is to remain rational when your emotions are in overdrive. Now imagine this overload from your child’s point of view. What if timeout provided the necessary tools to help him calm down?

Traditional timeout proponents may disagree, but some believe a more effective “timeout” enables children to self-soothe. This does not mean turning timeout into a playground. Simple stress relievers will do. Options include stress balls or fidget spinners; crayons and a journal for drawing pictures that help your child calm down or express her emotions; a favorite stuffed animal to hug or talk to; a book about emotions; even a pillow and blanket; and if your child has sensory issues a weighted vest or blanket can do wonders. Choose the items you believe will be most beneficial to your child.

Why is this timeout twist effective? First, your child is learning the valuable lesson of self-control. Next, a calm child is more capable of processing and managing her behavior. Another added value is insight. An angry child might point to the “mad” face in her picture book or express her frustrations to her stuffed animal. Finally, this timeout twist has the potential to lead to a direct solution. An exhausted child falls asleep snuggling in her blanket; a mini trampoline or “whack-a-mole” game safely disperses pent up energy.

2) Self-Imposed Timeout  

What if your son were to choose timeout before he lost control? Many elementary classrooms have adopted this method. When a student is struggling he heads to the timeout space and selects a stress reliever (a book, fidget, stuffed animal, etc.) or sits quietly. He’s allowed a specific amount of time to settle down before rejoining his classmates. This often reduces disruptions that draw the teachers time away from a lesson and avoids aggravating the other children, all while providing the valuable opportunity for the student to regain control.

Why is this timeout twist effective? A child-imposed timeout takes the self-soothing version a step farther by encouraging children to recognize negative emotions before reaching overload that leads to unwanted behavior. This twist provides significant training in both behavior modification and stress management.

3) Timeout for Toys or Problem Item

This timeout twist is an excellent alternative for parents of children who are pros at evading traditional timeout. Eliminate the battles and stop putting in most of the work. Instead of dragging your son off to timeout, immediately end the activity or remove the “offending” item instead.

Examples: your child mistreats a toy or refuses to clean up. The toy(s) are removed and no longer available for use. If a child is aggressive toward a playmate, apologize to the parent and playmate, and reschedule. If your child is rude at the table, slide his chair around so his back is to the table, or simply remove his plate until he’s calm and polite.

Why is this timeout twist effective? Simply put, the child’s ability to defy timeout is reduced, as is the parent’s constant efforts to physically reinforce the consequence.

4) Adult Timeout

Adults can have tantrums too. It happens to the best of us! Unfortunately, it’s difficult to discipline effectively when you’re as angry as your kiddo. Worse, your child is likely to emulate your escalating emotions, or possibly relish that his antics got the best of you! And yes, sometimes that spike of unexpected parental anger does lead to compliance, but research shows this technique eventually backfires in the long run, often resulting in future rebellion.

If you’re on the verge of overload, taking a personal timeout can be highly effective, especially when combined with a stress reliever such as deep-breathing or dancing to a favorite song.

Why is this timeout twist effective? Calm parents maintain control over proper discipline, which in turn helps children regain control. Parental timeouts also serve as a modeling experience allowing children to observe, and eventually mimic, a parent’s tension-reducing techniques.

5) Dual Timeout

A dual time out takes the previous timeout one step farther by placing both the child and the parent in respective timeouts. Although the adult should remain nearby, side-by-side timeouts are not the best option if the pair would benefit from the distance. A dual timeout works wonders when you and your child are interacting poorly. A bonus—children are more inclined to sit in timeout if mom or dad accepts the same consequence. Dual timeouts can become triple timeouts if both parents or a third participant needs to calm down. An added twist: shake it up a bit and combine a dual timeout with a stress reducer (listening to relaxing music or watching a humorous video clip) together.

Why is this timeout twist effective? A dual timeout provides dual relief as well as creating an excellent opportunity to model the connection between self-control and relatable consequences. Your stress reducing ritual may even turn habitual warding off stress before it’s too late.

While these twists provide alternative disciplinary tools, it’s important for parents to remember, they’re not considered true timeouts. However, for any parents in need of a disciplinary boost, they’re worth a trial run. For even more support, download this free eBook: Three Effective Alternatives to Timeout.

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