Beyond Time-Outs

I used to give time-outs. When my oldest entered toddlerhood and began pushing buttons and testing limits, I used time-outs. I thought that was the responsible thing to do, lest my child grow up to be wild and unruly with no respect for authority. But they never felt quite right, those time-outs. They always seemed reactionary, as if I relied on them because I knew no other way.

At the peak of toddlerhood with my oldest, with a new baby in the mix, I felt like we got stuck in a behavior-punishment cycle. I was frustrated, I raised my voice more than I wanted to, and time-outs were sprinkled throughout the week. I didn't like it. I didn't like the pattern we were caught in and I wasn't sure how to end it. But I knew it had to be me who ended it.

So I did. I stopped all time-outs. And I never looked back.

I realized that my parental frustration was rooted, not in my child's behavior, but in my own perspectives, emotions, and expectations. I made a concerted effort to change the way I parented, to make my home more child-centered, to let go of being steadfast in wanting things to be done in a certain way at a certain time, to be more proactive in recognizing and minimizing the conditions that might lead to my kids misbehaving.

As I began to become more mindful of my parenting approach and more focused on creating a calmer, more peaceful, more child-focused home--without time-outs and other arbitrary punishments--I found that the overall tone of my home changed. The kids were calmer. They didn't fuss or whine as much. They didn't "act out" or "press buttons" as often. And I began to really enjoy motherhood so much more. I realized that I didn't need to mold my kids into perfectly-behaved, obedient tots. Instead, I needed to recognize their childhood needs, their childhood rhythms, and learn the ways in which their behavior communicated these things to me.

It was up to me to listen, to learn, to change. Not them.

It may seem radical to give up time-outs in favor of more gentle discipline, more peaceful parenting. Sometimes to break a cycle of behavior that makes us frustrated and unhappy takes radical change, and it's up to us as parents to initiate this change. It's up to us to take a time-out, catch our breath, recognize what we might be doing wrong, and try our best to do things differently going forward.