Time-out for 20 Month Old

Updated on December 07, 2009
S.I. asks from Brentwood, TN
17 answers

My 20 month old daughter is constantly getting into stuff. If I am cleaning up the last mess she made she is in another room making another one. I know this is somewhat normal but I want her to understand there are consequences for things such as purposely taking a drink and pouring it all over the rug(an almost daily occurrence). I do not lay my hands on her so I think time out is the most appropriate discipline for us. She is very smart for her age so I feel she should understand the concept of time-out. I have tried it a few times in the past by putting her in her crib but I do not want her to associate her crib as a bad place to be and I don't want to put her in a room with the door closed. Last night I tried putting her in time-out in the corner of her room for one minute. I explained to her exactly why she was being put in time out and not to get up until I came back in to get her. She continued to get up and run into the other room crying every time I sat her down. This went on for almost 45 minutes. I even periodically reminded her why we were doing this in case she forgot. In the end the only way she would sit was for me to stand at the entrance to her door where she could see me and count to 60. From watching Supernanny I thought I should be able to walk away and go about my business while she sits. Is that expecting too much from a 20 month old? Should I just have kept going with sitting her down and walking away until she stayed?

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So What Happened?

Thank you to those of you who gave encouraging words about continuing the time-out. This morning when she did something she knows she isn't supposed to do I showed her the corner where she sat before and asked her if she would like to sit in time-out for said behavior. She promptly shook her head and said no. I think time-out made a big impression on her and will be a good method for us. Spanking or locking such a small child in her room for an extended period of time just isn't for us.

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answers from Knoxville on

I think she's toooo little. Twenty months....is still a baby. They grow up so fast, don't sweat the little things it's just not worth it. Just take the cup away from her and tell her no. Wait a few minutes and give it back to her. I've got a 20 month old also that loves making messes. It's how they learn and keeps them occupied while doing so. Mine loves getting in my cabinets and playing with my bowls and large spoons. She loves playing in the laundry also. I'll fold it she throw it. It's just a phase. Enjoy and try not to stress the little stuff. Good luck!



answers from Raleigh on

Hi S.
I am also a SAHM mom who works from home with a great company. I have 4 year old and a very busy 23 month old. I have had to put my youngest in time out a couple of times also and he knows that he is being punished. I also follow supernnanny and try to do what she says. I put him on the bottom step for 1 minute only I sit right there with him but do look at him. It seems to work, only in a month we are moving we are moving up to 2 minutes so we will see how that goes.
Good to hear from you!

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answers from Memphis on

I'm a firm believer in a swat on the butt is worth a thousand words. At that age she doesn't understand why she's having to sit and no you can't walk away from her. When she purposely spills on the floor a swift pop on the bottom can be very affective. Don't let her walk around with a cup make her stay put in the kitchen or high chair if she's still using one. I love SuperNanny but I don't recall her using this method on one so young. I have found in my mothering experience, that at this age you feel like all you say to your child is NO. This too shall pass. Just establish a rule that keeps the cups in the kitchen or at the dining room table.

One suggestion would be to have more structure in her day. At this age we're more tempted to just let them play. letteroftheweek.com is a wonderful FREE curriculum for children as young as your daughter on up. I used it when I homeschooled my youngest in preschool & he LOVED it. Get up at the same time each day, have your assigned time for 'school', nap, lunch, etc. It'll help you & help her too. A child that gets bored (and yes they can get bored/restless at this age) is one that often gets into trouble.

Best of luck with her. Enjoy her as much as possible because it really does seem you blink & they're married & giving you grandchildren!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Lexington on

have the consequence be a reflection of the error committed. If she pours her drink on rug, make her sit at the kitchen table to drink her drink. If she pours that out, give her the rag to clean it up.



answers from Louisville on

you are doing it right however, like you said dont put her in her room for time out it needs to be a place like the kitchen or other area where you can keep an eye on her but not have to stand over her if that makes since. we use one of our bar stools thats higher and my little one cant get down by herself. we stick it right in the middle of the room so she cant touch anything. dont give in no matter how many times she gets up you put her back until she sits her full 60 seconds. you give in once they know they can get away with it!



answers from Charleston on

Sometimes just not reacting to the situation is the best thing to do. She may just be trying to get your attention even if its negative. A response from you is all she wants and your giving it to her by putting her in time out after she pours the drink out. Maybe next time just ignor her all together quietly get a towel and clean up the mess and go back to what you were doing or if you can stand it leave the mess there for a little bit until she's not around or distracted doing something else and then clean it up. I have tried putting my 21 month old in time out and he just doesnt understand that he was being put in a chair for hitting his sister. He just sat there and played with his feet.



answers from Raleigh on

If only life were as simple as an edited TV show!

Until she understands time out and that she has to stay put, you aren't going to be able to just walk away and expect her to stay there - she's not even two yet!

When my son was that age (actually, a few months younger) I'd put him in the playpen for timeout. We didn't use the playpen (or play yard, as they are called now to be politically correct) for anything else though. It was great because it confined him so he couldnt run off. Once the timeout was over I gave him a hug and told him I loved him, but didn't like (whatever the bad behavior was). When he was closer to 2 years we started using a certain rug in the room because he understood that he had to sit on it until the time was up. Maybe get a chair or rug that you only use for timeout. If you're fighting a 1 minute time out for 45 minutes, the point of the time out is lost, even though you kept reminding her. At that point it was a battle of will. A timer works well - I used an egg timer and my son knew he could get up when the bell sounded.

If she's pouring drinks on the floor, make sure she's using a spill-proof sippy cup and only let her have it while in her highchair (or sitting at the table). Don't let her carry it around, and that will solve that problem. If she throws it (or manages to dump it even while in the highchair) take it away and don't give it back until the next snack or meal time. She will learn the consequence (not having a drink whenever she wants it) for her action (throwing or dumping the cup). Time out doesn't always mean sitting in the corner - she's getting a timeout from her cup by not being allowed to have it except during meal/snack times. If this seems to harsh for you, then find something else you are comfortable with doing - but do it consistently!

If you are constantly cleaning up her messes, what incentive does she have to stop making them? Have her help you (even though it will take longer to clean up). If she dumps all of her blocks on the floor, for example, she is old enough to help pick them back up. That also shows a consequence (having to clean up her own mess) for her actions (dumping toys).

Whatever you do, consistency is important so that she learns there will always be consequences for her misbehaving. Also, considering rewarding her when she is behaving (on a day she has the cup and doesn't dump her, praise her "You're such a big girl! I'm so glad you can use your cup like a big girl". Praise goes a long way with kids! Good Luck!



answers from Knoxville on

We used a timer. We told our kids that they had to sit still in the chair until the timer went off. We also had a specific chair in a specific place. The chair remained there and was rarely used for anything else. The other thing that we did was to help our kids clean up whatever the mess was. Obviously you cannot expect a toddler to clean up a juice spill as well as it needs to be but by letting them help clean up they learn that every action has a consequence.



answers from Louisville on

20 month olds timeouts need to take place in a playpen with no toys. Check out the fabulous "totblock" http://www.walmart.com/Graco-Totblock-Pack-N-Play/ip/2037160

My kids didn't understand the timeout chair until about 2 1/2 years old.

The truth about a 20 month old causing messes is that she is bored and perhaps under stimulated. I don't know what your day is like but for me we had to get out.

At this age it is time to introduce some scheduled social time with other children. Probably daily. We alternated a kindermusic class with a morning playgroup, museum trips, and mall playgrounds until he was old enough for 2 year old preschool. The preschool was 2 hours a day every morning.

Also, why not use a sippy cup and save yourself some stress. Cup handling comes with impulse control. My son's 4 and still uses them in the car.

Timeout training, when the child is ready, comes with a great deal of frustration and requires patience and persistence. Save any explanation for after their time is served. They're calmer.

I think Super Nanny's advice doesn't always apply to my kids. Her kids are almost always neglected and poorly parented. Our kids have less of a learning curve, results are less dramatic.



answers from Jacksonville on

Several thoughts. First, it's not possible to "reason" with a toddler, no matter how smart you think she is (every parent thinks her child is smart). So don't bother giving long explanations when you discipline her - just a few simple words.

Next, once kids start doing something in particular (pouring her drink on the rug), I don't know why, but they keep doing it. (Any store that my kids have ever needed to use the bathroom in before, they think they need to use the bathroom in that particular store every time we go, even if they just went before we left the house - so if I know that they really don't need to use it, then I don't let them; it's just an association). I wouldn't give her the drink again. If it's juice or milk or some sugary drink, I would stop entirely. If she's that young, why not use a sippy cup that she can't dump out? My kids have a disorder such that when they drink milk at the dinner/breakfast/lunch table, they dump it over about 50% of the time (ha ha, but really they do). So, I give them water to drink. And for some reason, they only dump that over about 5% of the time. Or else I give them about 1/4 cup of milk in their cup. My kids get plenty of milk, by the way, in pancakes (I make from scratch all the time) and other foods, and when they get their 1/4 cup at a time; not to mention that I'm not entirely convinced that cows milk is all that good for us anyway.

Next, if she's making messes, you may need to childproof much better. Spend a few hours putting up or away everything that you absolutely don't want her getting into, or put child locks on cupboards and such. If it's out, it's fair game, and it's not fair to her to not have free access to whatever is accessible to her. That is how kids learn, by exploring and experiencing their surroundings. If you do this, then you don't have to spend the day saying "no", which she has probably already tuned out. Leave a cupboard accessible to her that has wonderful play things such as cottage cheese cups, a wooden spoon, an old pot, etc. She'll be the smartest, happiest kid around. Then you don't need to spend the day disciplining her instead of enjoying her.

And, when she really does do something unacceptable or unsafe, make the discipline count. Absolutely put her in her closed bedroom for 15 minutes. That will make an impression! Obviously what you've been doing doesn't work, so you need to try something else. I think she's too young to try that nanny stuff on her, and in my opinion, I shouldn't have to punish myself to give proper discipline. By the way, pulling the books off the shelf is not naughty, for example - it's normal -put them back once a day, or put them out of reach if you can't handle that or other things like that. Things she could make a mess with should be completely inaccessible to her.

I think you're making this too hard for yourself. It really works to do the major childproofing, and makes everyone's life easier. Also, John Rosemond has an invaluable book called Making the Terrible Twos Terrific. He goes over all this stuff, and says that the terribles start around 18 months, so she's right on target. Do yourself a favor and read the book. Good luck!



answers from Charlotte on


I started time out with my 20 month old when he was 16 months old. He is a very bright child. I can tell him to do something and he knows exactly what I mean and will do it. I can tell him not to do something and he will not do it most of the time. Then there are those times when it really seems he's testing his boundaries and trying to see how far he can push me before I will discipline him. I use time out and have used it effectively for the past 3-4 months. I would definitely not put him in his crib or play area for time out. I have a little wooden chair that I made the "time out chair" so that my son associates it with being punished. The chair stays in the same spot all the time. It's never moved. It sits in a corner in my dining room where it's away from t.v., toys, and other distractions. The first time I did time out with him, it was a trying experience. I had to sit him in the chair several times all the while hearing him cry and wonder if he was still too young to understand. I kept thinking, "it's just a minute" but a minute is an eternity to them. I just basically stuck with it until he sat and did his time out. It took a long time (about an hour) but he finally learned that he wasn't getting out until he did his time in the chair. After it was over I stooped down and told him why he was being punished (you know, climbing on bed is a no, no so mama put you in time out) and hugged him and he was the perfect child the rest of the day. Everytime after that I had to continue putting him back in his chair but it only took about 2 or 3 times of timeout for him to know what it was and to sit and take his punishment. Now, I a just walk him to his chair while I tell him he's going, and he sits there until I tell him to get up. I'm not big on parenting books because the people that wrote them based them on their experience with children but children are individuals and what works for one child may not work for the other. You need to try this before you go to the book. The main thing is to be consistent and following through with it. If you don't the time out system will not work. Another thing is, I do agree with the Supernanny by hugging your child after their punishment is over - it really makes them feel they are still loved even when they do something wrong and get punished. Be consistent, keep doing it, and don't question whether she is too young. She needs boundaries and needs to know what she can and cannot do and they only way to enforce that is to discipline her and in my opinion, time out is very effective is used correctly. Good luck.



answers from Raleigh on

Hi S.

Some experts believe that discipline is ineffective before 2-2.5. I remember 20 months being a challenging time with my daughter. I don't have any advice for you other than to let your child know when they've done something but realize it's going to take a few month before it starts to work. It will happen!



answers from Louisville on

At 20 months, a child's attention span is shorter than a gnat's eyelash (Do gnat's even have eyelashes???) so you need to have a time-out location that is movable if necessary. Purchase a small rug or brightly colored carpet remnant that can be placed within your sightline. It can be rolled up and put on a shelf in the closet or kitchen cupboard. Purchase a wind-up kitchen timer with a loud bell on it that can be set for as little as 5 minutes. Soon she will know when she sees the time-out mat and timer come out that she is in trouble. If she is a wanderer, you may need to use a playpen but make sure it is where you can keep an eye on her at all times. (Before my son learned to walk, he had a playpen with a divided, folding floor. He quickly learned to pull the floor mat back, get under a section of the flooring, and crawl under the playpen and be out and about on his own. He was so quick about it, it took me more than a month to figure out how he was getting out!)

The timeouts need to be done where there are no toys or other distractions and close enough where you can keep an eye on her and know when she strays from her mat. Initially, if she wanders, just sit her back down on the mat but, once you establish the parameters, up the ante and, if she strays, the countdown on the timer starts over.

At her age, she is old enough to understand simple instructions (although you may have to repeat them a few times!) As she gets older, you may want to move from a mat to a child-sized chair or stool ... and the time limits on time outs may be increased. (Remember to keep the timer with you. When they get old enough to understand, a clever child may try to manipulate timeout by setting the bell off on the timer!)



answers from Nashville on

It sounds like you are doing all the right things but it might be a little young to expect her to stay if you walk away. You don't want to put your hands on her but I don't see anything wrong with smacking her little hand and saying, "no mam, we do not dump drink on the floor!!". Also, I would make sure that there is not drink w/ out a lid around for her to "do this everyday". I would only allow her near sippy cups with non-spill lids. Even your drinks must be up high. You are right about not putting her in her crib. She must be on a stool in the corner or on a step. Don't speak to her if she gets up, just walk her back and sit her down and walk away. Maybe the 3rd time she gets up you can explain again why she is there. My daughter used to do the same thing-making messes constantly. It was so frustrating! I dealt with it though and she is now 4 and still makes messes but cleans them up when asked. Just continue to tell her over and over, keep a closer eye on her if you can, and make her help you clean up. Play clean up games. "clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere, clean up, clean up"...etc Just keep things locked and out of her reach! Good luck



answers from Raleigh on

Have you ever read "love and logic" ... A great resource my three daughters all responded VERY well to the "uh uh" song at that age and still do years later!! They have a early parenting book "birth to age 5" I would Highly recommend!! Good luck!! Every stage is so fun, enjoy it they grow up so fast! :)




answers from New York on

i started timeout when my son was 12 or 13 mo old. it took a few times before he "got it" so just be patient and consistent. now i just tell him go to time out and he walks there on his own and stands facing the wall til i tell him he can come out (1 or 2 min). i also warn him once before putting him in and give him the opportunity to correct his behavior without punishment and if he continues the bad behavior he goes to time out. if it is somthing like hitting or bitting it's just an immediate time out.when time out is over i tell him that he can't do whatever it was he was doing and needs to try to remember that it isn't nice to act that way so he knows why he was punished. it has worked very well for me and now at 2 1/2 he rarly goes to time out and the warning is enough to get him to behave better. what ever way you choose to teach your child consiquences just be consistant thats the most important thing. don't warn them and never follow thru, if you say time out then if they continue the behavior you need to follow thru otherwise they will learn if they are stubborn long enough they will get there own way. remember you are the boss!



answers from Allentown on

I think after the first few times she'll start getting the hint and you'll be able to eventually walk away. My son is 19 months old & he had a horrible habit of biting when he would get mad. I put him in a rocking chair turned around so that he couldn't see any of the activity going on around him. I sit in the same room while he's in time out. The first few times were the toughest. He too would get up & think it was a game. He eventually learned that he was not allowed out of the chair. He no longer bites, thank goodness. Good luck!!!

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