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A 7-Step Timeout System That Actually Works

We follow a pretty simple set of attachment parenting ideals when it comes to how we raise our son and how we will raise all our children should we be blessed to have more.

One of the basic tennets of attachement, sometimes called ‘Crunchy’, parenting is that we should always stive to build the child’s belief in his or her own inherent value. To teach the child that he or she is worthy of love and affection.

Because of that, we have to pay special attention to how we discipline our son.

We’ve learned from our study and our application of discipline that there are two main schools of thought when it comes to guiding and teaching children the appropriate way in which to act in our society.

One is the thought that we should spank or otherwise use some form of physical punishment when rules are broken.

The other is that we should use timeout or otherwise use some form on non-physical punishment when rules are broken.

There are positives and negatives to each, which I won’t get into too deeply here, but both schools of thought are predicated on the understanding that there are rules set forth for the child that he or she is aware of and can understand.

Step 1

So, step 1 in properly disciplining your children is simple. Make rules and teach them to your children.

When our son turned 1, we sat down and wrote out our house rules for him. They were simple. Things like: no throwing things, no biting, no tantrums, and say please (we had taught him baby signs and this was one of his first words).

We printed them and posted them on the fridge, the doors and in the hallway. We would regularly read them to him and explain what they meant.

Then when he broke a rule and we had to continue with disciplining (teaching and guiding) him, it was much easier for him to understand what was going on and to learn.

It really suprised us how quickly our little boy learned the rules and began to abide by them. Don’t think that because your child is young, that they aren’t capable of understanding.

We take the stance that children are  a lot smarter that our society gives them credit for… you just have to take the time to teach them and bring out that intelligence.

At the time of this writing our son is two and a half and his rules have grown up with him. Now we have rules like: no hitting, no chasing the cat, obey the first time, ask properly the first time (in respect to manners), no throwing tantrums, etc.

What is Step 2?

Anyway, that brings us to what we do with (notice I didn’t say ‘to’) our son when he breaks a rule.

Should we go the physical or non-physical school of thought for discipline?

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into too much detail, but we have chosen to go with the non-physical route for discipline.

For some excellent researched reasoning on this, read these articles:

10 Reasons Not To Hit Your Child

The Long-Terms Effects of Spanking

Should I Spank My Child

Please note that if you do some research on non-spanking of children you will find studies that show non-spanked children turn our worse than spanked children. Be careful to read to the end of these studies to find out the reason is that the non-spanked children had little or no discipline or if they did have it, it was inconsistent at best. Showing that consistent discipline is much more important than the form discipline takes. Keep that in mind as you make your own decisions.

Steps 2-7

Which brings us to what we actually do with our child when he breaks a rule.

We have chosen to use a form of timeout. But not just telling the child to go stand in the corner until we aren’t mad at him anymore. It’s much more controlled than that.

We discovered the method from the host of the TV show “Super Nanny”, but after some research found that it is a widely used method for teaching children the proper way to act.

This is a run down of how it works:

Step 2

When the child breaks a rule. Give them a verbal warning that both reminds them what the rule is and what the punishment will be if they choose to break it again. You might even bring them over to your written rules and show them the rule.

It is absolutely amazing to me how affective this simple warning is when this whole process is used consistently and regularly with the child.

I would say that easily 90% of the time when we give our son a warning about him breaking the rule and reminding him of the punishment he immediately corrects his behavior.

This all by itself is is a huge stress reliever for both my wife and I, and – if I’m not mistaken -even our son.

I would definitely recommend that you follow a strong consistent disciplinary pattern like this even if you choose to use physical discipline as well.

One of the reasons that I believe this is so effective is because it really teaches the child that he is in control of his life, his actions, his decision, and their consequences.

We have given him a choice: Continue to break the rules and suffer the consequences of that action, or correct your behavior and get rewarded with the consequences of that decision (at his age, that means he gets to play more) 🙂

So what happens when he chooses to break the rules after having been given a warning?

Step 3

That’s when we take our son to our pre-determined naughty spot. All that means is that, when at home, we always do timeout in the same place.

Consistency is very important when teaching youngsters. It helps him to understand that “If I’m here, I’ve done something wrong”.

Then we have a short conversation with him explaining again both the decision he made to break the rule and what the punishement will be.

When he was younger, under a year old, the conversation was one way. We just told him what he did wrong and what was happening as a result.

Now that he’s 2.5, we have a conversation and ask him if he knows why he is being brought to time out. I’d say 7 out of 10 times, he’s able to tell us why we are putting him in timeout… usually through lots of tears and sobs.

Note that we always get down on his level for this conversation.

The neat thing is that we are seeing him learn that he knows the rules and that it’s his actions the predicate his results in life. I personally think this is a wonderfully excellent thing for our son to be learning so young.

Step 4

Then we simply tell him to face the wall and start a timer for him to sit through his timeout.

We follow a simple rule, 1 minute for each year of life.

So when he was one, he got a one minute timeout.

Now that he’s 2, he gets a two minute timeout.

This is where it gets interesting though, because should he break more rules (such as throwing a tantrum) while in timeout or get up from his timeout… we start the timeout over.

Out favorite story  about this is from when he was about 1.5 years old. He was sat in timeout by his mother and he thought it would be funny to keep getting up and running away… all the while laughing at mom. Every time, she’d chase him down and set him back in timeout and restart his clock. He kept this up for 1 hour and 38 minutes. You can imagine how much this angered her (read: pissed her off to the point of wanting to give the child away for adoption). He finally broke down in tears and sat through is one minute timeout. Guess what though??? He have never done that again and he’s never had a time out that is more than twice it’s original timeframe. He learned that we mean business.

When used to allow our son to cry through his timeout, though not throw a tantrum, because he was young and just getting him to understand that he broke a rule was most important.

More recently, we have started discussing with our son that his timeout would begin when he stopped crying. This allows him to sit quietly and really think about why he’s there instead of just balling his eyes out the whole time and being an emotional wreck who doesn’t remember why he was there in the first place.

This has been working exceptionally well lately. In fact, just this morning, I brought my son to his naughty spot for timeout, we had out conversation, and I told him that his timer would start when he stopped crying. About a minute into him sitting there, he turned around and announced that he was done crying and that I could start the timer. I, amazed, said okay and started his timer. When it went off he stood up came to me and we finished the discipline.

Which brings me to last few steps.

Step 5

The next step is that we have another conversation about what just transpired. We talk again about what rule he broke, we talk about what he could do in the future instead of breaking the rule, and now that he’s getting older and more communicative, we ask him why he chose to break the rule (sometimes we even get an answer other than the infamous “I don’t know”).

Step 6

This is another one of the trying steps, but we ask our son to apologize for breaking the rule. If his rule breaking affected other people, we bring him to those people and ask that he apologizes to them as well.

If he chooses not to apologize, then timeout starts over… this time for not apologizing.

I was actually surprised  at how little this actually happens though. Our son almost always apologizes. When he doesn’t it’s usually because he’s still angry about the timeout and needs more time to sit and think about it anyways.

Which brings us to the final and most important step.

Step 7

We hug and kiss and go off to play.

I can’t stress enough how important and effective this is.

We are trying to teach our son that it is his behavior or actions that was wrong or unacceptable, not him.

By taking the time to hug and kiss and give him an encouraging pat on the butt to go play and have fun, we are reinforcing that we love him, that he is awesome, and it was merely the action he chose to take that was being punished.

To finish off my story from this mornings discipline, when my son stood up and came over to me from his timeout, he immediately said he was sorry. I asked him what for, he said “I threw tantrum, daddy.” I asked him if he was allowed to do that and he shook his head. Then I asked him what he’d do next time and he said “I NO throw tantrum, daddy!” Then we had a hug and a kiss and he went off to play.

All I can say is that we’ve been practicing this method since his first birthday and it’s been working wonders.

I wish I could tell you that we are 100% consistent, but we aren’t. Sometime we let rule breaking slip, or we get angry and don’t follow the process exactly. But we try to be as consistent as our own broken selves allow us to be.

So far, our screw-ups haven’t screwed up our son. So don’t worry about being perfect.

Just have a consistent displine system and stick to it as much as possible.

Your children will amaze you with how intelligent they are and how quickly they pickup and understand the rules.