Why We Don’t Do Time Out (No, this is not a judgemental post)

Let me get it out on the table right now and say this is NOT a “time-out shaming post.”  This is a story of our evolution as toddler parents and our transition to “time away.”

From the time Everly was born, till the time she was about 18 months old, she was a sweet little girl.  She never spoke back. She rarely cried about “not getting things” and she was extremely happy all the time.  At some point, Justin and I thought we dodged a bullet.  

We thought:

  1. She is so happy and wholesome.  I can’t believe we made her. (This is coming from fairly non-emotional adults – so to speak.)
  2. Maybe we are going to skip the terrible-twos, because there is NO way she’s going to get THAT bad in such a short time.

HA – Stupid new parent fantasies.  The day of her 2nd birthday, I’m pretty sure she developed a REAL, DOWN-FROM-THE-SOUL, terrible-two attitude.  It waited all this time. Like it was an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and she was coming of age with her new found powers of being a little sh*t.   (We love our daughter dearly, by the way). Every week that passed, she learned new ways to communicate this attitude.  

When she did something terrible, our first reaction to punishment looks probably very similar to most parents.  We first tell her to stop empathetically. When that doesn’t work, we escalate our attempts. We then firmly tell her to stop or ‘else.’  Maybe at this point, we give a warning of some consequence. Usually, the consequence was TIME-OUT. I watched my fair share of Super Nanny.  She had a time-out spot on the stairs where she sat for as many minutes as she was old. Okay…so maybe sometimes when she really upset us, we defaulted to 5-minutes.  She wasn’t allowed to do anything but sit in that spot. At the end of that time, we told her what she did wrong and had her repeat it to us. We would ask her to say sorry, and then end it with a hug.  This worked for a LITTLE BIT.  

As Everly developed socially and emotionally, she held onto her anger a little longer.  We found ourselves ‘restarting the time-out’ because she would not accept it. As you can imagine, as most of our stories have ended/begun, I lost it.  I yelled. I yelled LOUD. I didn’t say a cuss word, but I did say “freakin’ “ – a word which would forever haunt us as it is now ingrained in Everly’s vocabulary when she talks about laundry or clean up.  That’s another story.

She was crying.  I was upset. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about.  She was yelling at me from the doorway. I took a breath, and something strange came out of Everly’s mouth.

She said, “Mom, I want time away from you!  You need to go away!”

My heart immediately sunk.  I wanted to cry of frustration and defeat.  At this time, I had been traveling and I was already rarely home.  And now I’m home, and I hear that my child wants me to ‘go away.’ It completely killed me.  

I told her, “Fine, go to your room.”  

There was no time-out anymore.  She went upstairs and sat on her bed quietly.

I sat in the dining room and took a breath.  I put myself together, and tried to put my heart back in my chest.  A few minutes went by, and I DID feel better. 

10 minutes later- YES, 10 MINUTES LATER.

Everly walks down the stairs and says, “Mom, I’m ready.”

We talked.  She felt better.  I felt better. I told her why what she did was wrong.  She told me she wouldn’t do it again. (Though remember, this is a 2 year old keeping a promise). 

She was surprisingly PERFECT the rest of the day.  She self-regulated herself better than I did, and I realized that I should not have taken her ask for me to “go away” as a bad thing.  As a toddler, she communicated she didn’t want to be ‘there.’ I took note of this. Usually, her fits of ‘bad behavior’ were related to her emotional state of being.  When we put her in time-out, we were making it clear this was a punishment. We controlled the terms. She had no control over anything. Since we set the time clock, it almost forced her to be okay within the few minutes we gave her.  And when she wasn’t ‘okay’ in time, we started the clock over. I’m not a child development expert or a psychologist of any kind, but I do know my child, and I knew there was a better way to handle this.

Since then, we decided to implement Time-Away versus Time-Out.   

The Toddler Brain by Lara A. Jana explains the difference the best.  “The difference etween time-out and time away involves a fundamental change in parental mindset.  Yes, “time away” still inherently involves physically removing children from environments or situations in which they become overwhelmed or ac out.  But rather than as a form of punishment, time away should be seen and treated as a way to get themselves, their emotions, and their behavoirs under control.

The idea is still the same.  When bad behavior occurs, we still separate her from the situation, but instead of sticking her in a random and open part of the floor, we let her go upstairs, into her room, or sit on the couch.  She gets to choose. We still sometimes give her a timer (when we’re out and about), but if she’s not ready, she knows to ask for more time. The goal of time away is that she’s calm enough to have a conversation about what she did that was considered bad behavior.  This might not work for every child, but this worked for us. It took away the stigma of taking a break, and redefined our time-outs to emotional checks. If you’re looking to try this out on your little, here are the 5 steps we use to implement Time-Way:

  1. Take a breath – this will be a reminder in EVERY parenting hack that we use.  We first need to breathe.
  2. Calmly tell your toddler her behavior or emotions were not good and it’s time she/he take some time to cool off. 
  3. Direct them with various options to go that are comfortable, but away from you for the time being.  This could be a loft or their bedroom.
  4. Let them know you will check up on them in a few minutes, but they need to come back down when they’re ready to talk.
  5. When they’re ready, tell them what they did wrong, ask for an apology and end with hugs.

I know it seems crazy – 5 steps to dealing with a punishment does seem crazy.  It didn’t work consistently with us at first. We evolved as a family to make this acceptable and Everly had to be ready for it.  But we realized this was a healthier version for us. It gave her an opportunity to control her emotions and self-regulate. I heard less “go away” and more “I need time away from you.”  For some reason, that phrase was much easier to accept. 

We’d love to hear your stories about what you do for time-outs or time-away.  We know time-away is not a new or unique thought in the parenting world, but only now do we really understand it. 

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