Timeout Alternatives for Toddlers and Preschoolers

You’ve tried timeouts and they just aren’t working, so now you’re looking for alternatives to time out. Parenting is really hard so I get it. We use timeout alternatives now and I’d like to share those with you.

time out alternatives for toddlers and preschoolers.

I remember when my oldest was starting to adventure into being a toddler. It was pretty difficult trying to figure out what exactly to do as a new mom. It takes some time to figure out but I firmly believe that if I can… you can too. 

Thankfully, timeouts are not the only option. There are alternatives to timeouts that you can try!

More parenting articles to check out:

Time Out Alternative for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Timeout is ineffective

It’s my belief that timeout is actually ineffective for most kids, especially at the toddler and preschool age. If it works for you, great. I just could never get it to be an effective practice and therefore I believe it’s an ineffective method.

Utilising timeouts has the potential to do a few things.

It sends the message that they are “bad”. This can start a very dangerous cycle of identifying emotional behaviours as thinking they are bad. And when we put them in timeout, it can verify that we think so as well.

They ignite a power struggle. It can also start a power struggle of trying to “win” aka getting them to do what we want them to do. This starts a fight of back and forth that may not change in the foreseeable future.

It removed the child from the situation instead of teaching them how to handle the situation. Removing them from the situation has a time and place, but usually this is not what we want to do. Time outs remove them instead of giving them the tools and resources to handle certain situations.

This doesn’t mean you let your child take control, either. Accepting that timeout is ineffective just means that you are finding other ways to set limits.

Evaluate & connect

The most important thing to do here is to evaluate the situation and take the time to connect with your child. More connections means they will respect and trust you more. When they respect and trust you, they are more likely to listen because they want to, not because they have to.

First evaluate the situation. Are they hungry? Tired? Feeling overwhelmed with emotion? Overstimulated by their environment? Evaluate what is going on and how they might be feeling. Many inappropriate behaviours are stemmed from emotion. 

Make sure you have the right expectations. It is also important to make sure you have the right expectations for your child. Educating yourself on child development for their age has a huge benefit. You will begin to understand they might too young to behave a certain way. 

For example, expecting a 1-year-old to not touch your books on the table or the wires for your TV is unreasonable as they have not yet formed impulse control. So instead, you should change their environment into a “yes space” to avoid conflict. Similar situations can be applied to older ages too. Make sure you have reasonable expectations for their age!

Lastly, connect with them. A child lashing out usually needs connection. Punishing them will make this worse and disconnect even further. Instead, hug them and give them your attention. Help them handle the emotions they are feeling and validate them. This stuff is hard as a child!

Teach them

Once you have evaluated and connected, take some time to teach them. Now, it’s important you save this for after they have gathered their emotions. Trying to teach them while they are emotional is not effective. 

You, yourself, also need to have a handle on your emotions as well. Trying to teach them while you are frustrated or angry is not the best time. You lack the patience to teach them.

With toddlers, you might suggest an alternative course of action. They will need a little extra help with what they should do so it is best to start by teaching them exactly what that is.

Preschoolers, however, are great at coming up with solutions. So for them, you can prompt them in coming up with a better solution. Ask them what they think first and then either acknowledge that great idea and elaborate on it, or explain what a better option might be.

When your toddler or preschooler does well don't forget to praise them and tell them they have done a good job to reinforce their good behaviour. Instead of always using the words good job you could check out this list of 25 things to say instead of good job

Take a break

It goes without saying that parenting a toddler or preschooler can be hard sometimes. If you, yourself, are having a hard time managing… take a break.

If you feel angry and like you are going to yell or overreact, consider removing yourself from the situation. It doesn’t do you or your toddler or preschooler any good in this situation.

This might not be a direct alternative to timeouts, but it can go hand in hand sometimes.

Consider these steps instead:

  • Vocalise what you are feeling in “I feel x because y” phrases
  • Turn your body away from your child to avoid yelling or physical contact
  • Take a deep breathe and analyse the situation, then hit the start-over button
  • Praise yourself for gaining control of the situation

Respond, don’t react

The last part of this is to try to respond to the situation, rather than reacting. This means you have to take a moment to think instead of impulse reacting with yelling or sticking a child in timeout.

But what does that mean exactly?

When you react, you are meeting your emotional child with your own emotional response. An example would be yelling at a child for throwing a tantrum. Oftentimes, we will even try to “get over it” when this behaviour is happening or place them in a timeout.

When you respond, you are giving your child permission to express their own feelings, thoughts, and opinions. The more important part is that you are not shaming, criticizing, or guilting them for doing so. You allow them to express themselves while showing empathy and letting them know that you are there for them to work through it. You are not trying to get it to end.

See the difference?

Letting them work through it by responding versus reacting also leads to emotionally healthy children who later turn into emotionally healthy adults.

time out alternatives for toddlers and preschoolers

I hope these timeout alternatives have helped you when handling some difficult situations with your toddler or preschooler. It’s hard to implement, but so rewarding in the long term.

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