Time-out Is Not Working (3Yrold)

Updated on April 07, 2011
K.K. asks from San Diego, CA
15 answers

Hi moms, so i have a question for my friend who has a three year old daughter. (she was asking me for advise, i helped her with what i could, i'm a mother of one to a 16 month.but hoping you guys can help, thanks)

My friend is having problems with her three yr old (who will be four soon) who isn't very nice, won't listen, acts out, and does completely the opposite of what they tell her. She has no idea what to do as far as discipline. She's done time-out and has taken her favorite toy and t.v. away for discipline, but wants to know what else to do because that isn't working.

For example, at dance class instead of sitting down (with all the little girls, listening to the dance teacher) she will get up and play duck duck goose, she will start playing and gets all the other girls excited and it ends up a big mess b/c everybody is now playing instead of listening. (all while her mom is telling her to please stop, please sit down, please listen) Eventually her mom had to pull her out of dance class for the day.
She will talk back when asked to do something or not do something
She always reminds her mom that "at grandmas house" she doesn't have to do "that" or "this" , and "grandma always lets me"
She spits at her mom's face when she gets angry,she will hit mom, she will push and hit her 1 yr old baby brother when she gets mad....
She bites, wakes her brother up when he's napping, hits walls when she is being sent to time-out
Those are a few examples

Time-out is in her room or sitting on a chair facing the wall. Besides time-out, what else can she do?? what have you guys done that has worked? (at this age)

THANK YOU again, will greatly appreciate any kind of advise.

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So What Happened?

thank you everyone. she read your comments and has been trying the 'hug-it-out" and has been having luck, she said her daughter is acting different now (in a better way) and she couldn't be happier. thank u again

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answers from Honolulu on

I has a problem like that with my 2 year old (he actually broke one of my ribs in one of his fits of rage). I ended up reading a book called "To train a Child" by the Pearls. I will warn you it a VERY controversial book and you M. well throw it at a wall but it did work.

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answers from Portland on

Though your request is scant on actual examples of this mom's problems, a couple of things jump out at me from your description. First, this sounds like a very spirited and active child, and a mother who sounds pretty discouraged and is probably sampling any form of discipline she can think of.

If the mom herself is labeling her child as "not very nice" or even harsher labels, she's setting herself and her child up for failure. A child will live down (or up) to a parent's expectations, and if she hears a poor assessment of herself, then that's what she's likely to aim for. If you're bad, why try?

The child may also be over-scheduled, or inappropriately scheduled, for her age and personality. Some 3-4 year-olds are not yet capable of staying focused through an hour-long class of any sort, and it's a waste of time and money to enroll them until they can. Toddlers and young children learn primarily through free play, and can hardly get enough of it. It's what they are programmed to do. Classes, especially if the child hasn't had enough physical exercise and imaginative play, could just be asking too much.

I'm also guessing this little girl is not feeling especially valued in her family, and is acting out to get the attention she craves. She may feel displaced by the baby brother, and unfairly punished for seeking attention – a very basic need for any child. In fact, behavioral science tells us that ALL choices, all behaviors in children and adults, are actually strategies to get some need met. If the mom could consider her daughter's actions from that viewpoint, perhaps she'd be able to adjust her schedule, rules, and expectations to meet this angry child's needs. If her needs are met, her anger will more than likely subside.

Few children can accept constant correction and management, even if they 'deserve' it, without distress (nor could most adults). Too much frustration, which the child did not choose to feel, quite logically results in either tantrums or withdrawal. In the case of tantrums or angry behaviors, parents may believe it necessary to add an additional frustrating layer of discipline, which usually translates as "punishment." For a young child, this usually adds to her emotional burden, confoundment, and rage, especially if she has a strong will. Feelings are just as real as fact to the child who's feeling them.

Anyway, I'm assuming you will get the advice we give to this mom friend. So here is my list of the best tips I've learned over my 45 adult years for working with young children:

1. Trust that she is not "trying" to be naughty. Children don't really want to cause problems or get in trouble if they have any other way at all to meet their own growing need for autonomy, independence, and control of their circumstances.

2. Adults have the practice and self-control to make most of life meet our grownup expectations. Your toddler doesn't know any of that yet, and it will be a while before she sees very much from your point of view. As exasperating as that is for you, she can't help it. It's just reality, and reality is easier to take if you can accept it.

3. Digging in heels and tantrums are a natural outcome of becoming more frustrated than the child is able to endure. This "new" behavior may seem to come out of the blue. The stress of travel and changing schedules, or illness, or any major change, may contribute.

4. When she wants something, empathize. Big time, and in the child's language. I love the advice of Dr. Harvey Karp on how to get on a tantruming toddler's wavelength in this and several related videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6KnVPUdEgQ&feature=re... . Once your little girl realizes you do care about what she wants, she's more likely to be able to calm down and cooperate with what you need from her. And there are lots of positive ways to approach this, rather than just saying no. They hear no so often, and they can be so frustrated by it. And they learn to tune it out. So look for ways of finding a mutual "yes," as in "Here, play with this," or "Can you hop over to me like a bunny?" instead of "No, don't touch that," or "Stop that and come here right now!" Save "no" for those occasions when children are trying something dangerous.

5. Keep it playful. Children learn primarily through play. You may need help with this if your parents didn't model a lighthearted and cheerful approach when you were little. The book Playful Parenting is a great resource. Your daughter's sense of humor is developing, and you'll both be happier if you can nurture that. (Also be aware that some "behaviors," like throwing, are a natural experimental activity for kids, a form of play that is programmed into them for the purpose of developing brain/body connections. Find plenty of "acceptable" play outlets for those repeating behaviors.)

6. There will also be times when you must have her cooperation, like diapering or trips to the store, so keep a special toy that she gets to play with only at those times or keep her as playfully engaged in the process as possible. This often requires creativity, because each child is different.

7. Here's a big one: give advance notice when you'll want her to be doing anything differently, especially when she's grooving on her activity/play. All children absolutely hate unexpected transitions (and so do most adults). With my grandson, we let him know at least a couple of times that a change is coming ("We're going to go to the store / have lunch / take a nap pretty soon." … and then a second alert one minute before making the change.)

8. Whatever the next activity is, make it sound as desirable as possible. Give some detail about the ride in the car, or a favorite food at lunch, or sweet snuggles before nap. Be positive and enthusiastic. Be calm. Be "as inevitable as the tides." Desperation will show, and even though she's too young to deliberately plan a power struggle, she will quite naturally sense any cracks in your resolve in an attempt to meet her own emotional needs. And this is where future power struggles truly can begin.

9. Try to keep demands low when she's tired, over-managed, hungry, or sick. An already frustrated child doesn't have any emotional reserves left with which to cooperate.

10. Get to know her most likely trouble-spots, and plan ahead. For many kids, it's when they want some tempting object or food they've seen. So keep those things out of sight when possible. Baby-proof your home. Be prepared with a distraction – for example, another toy she likes when you have to take something away from her, or a healthy treat when she wants a sugary snack. Laughter, introducing a new game, a few twirls and bounces, hugs or tickles, a goofy song, can help break into her determination to get something she wants (that short attention span is both a curse and a blessing).

11. Avoid bribes, but let her work toward occasional rewards. Don't try to buy cooperation with "IF you'll do X, we'll let you have Y." Instead, phrase it as if she gets to assist in advancing something good for herself: "Hey, as soon as you help me get X done, then we get to do Y." It sounds like a small distinction, but it's important. It gives the child a chance to cooperate in what feels like choice, even when there's no "if" about it.

12. Be sure she gets lots and lots of physical activity during the day. Time outdoors in nature is calming for most children. If she has pent-up energy, it will have to come out some way, and unless channeled in a positive direction, it will likely to add to both your stress and hers.

13. Whatever you are trying to teach will need to be repeated hundreds of times over the next few years. That's completely normal. Attention spans and impulse control are extremely limited in toddlers. Look at your parenting contract, and you'll find it in tiny print under "I agree to the following terms and sacrifices."

14. Spanking and time-outs don't work for every kid, and will sometimes actually backfire over time. Especially with spanking: children may be scared, shocked, or shamed into cooperating, but behaving for the sake of avoiding pain isn't the same thing as developing an internalized sense of "good." Consistent, calm guidance and demonstrations of what you DO want from her will work better in the long run than punishing for what you DON'T want her to do. See more on this by googling The Science of Parenting or Emotion Coaching.

15. Pay attention to what you love and appreciate about your daughter, and make sure she knows. Remind yourself to do this even when you're tired or busy. Children seek attention and approval, and if she knows you're noticing her good moments, she'll try to create more of them. If she doesn't get that positive notice from you, she'll seek attention in other ways, and that often turns out to be misbehavior, because you notice it.

There's one other thing worth considering: some kids are sensitive to chemical exposures, such as auto exhaust, the scents that fill up the detergent aisle or the modern home, and can feel physically and emotionally miserable if they do get exposed. It may help to make a mental note of when and where these events most often, to determine whether this could be part of the problem.

I wish this mom and her little girl well.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Cloud on

My counter advice to the suggestion of reading "To Train Up a Child" by the Pearls would be to throw that book at the wall without even reading it. They employ abusive tactics, and I am speaking as someone who is not anti spanking! I am, however, against beating a child into submission and training children like dogs.

Your friend needs to be consistent with her discipline. Never let any bad behavior slide and never negotiate. And a child should never be praised for obeying half way!

If your friend needs some books to read to encourage her, I recommend "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp, and "Have a New Kid by Friday" by Kevin Lehman. I also like "The Strong Willed Child" by James Dobson. I used the latter to help me understand my strong willed daughter better and how to relate to what she is feeling, and how to help my daughter use her powers for good and not evil! Haha! Being strong willed is a GREAT thing, if you know how to properly direct it! :)

Good luck to your friend!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Madison on

Sounds like there is serious discipline problem here, or lack of it. Discipline does not mean punishment, it means being consistent and teaching boundaries while respecting each other.

Please make sure your friend reads Peg M.'s list. She needs to change her behavior toward the little girl and be both firm and loving. She may also benefit from reading more on the subject (Positive Discipline books, "How to talk so kids will listen" and others).

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answers from Dallas on

First, make sure she is doing time-out the right way and consistently-- we follow the Super Nanny technique and it WILL work if always done the correct way. The Super Nanny website probably has more info.

Second, my daughter went through a bunch of stuff like this and we bought a Melissa and Doug Responsibility Chart to start correcting specific behaviors. It really worked well for us... she is now a model 4 year old. Here it is on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-Deluxe-Magnetic-Respon...

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answers from Cleveland on

Wow! I feel for your friend! My son is almost 3, and we've had ALOT of problems with his behavior. I hate that some people just assume it's lack of discipline. because Speaking from experience, I have tried everything! Every book out there, I have it! I think what it is, is lack of the RIGHT discipline.
We are learning this with my son, and it's very hard. But finally makes sense. Some kids (like him) crave the bad attention. Getting the parents flustered, upset, angry etc. They are smart and act like scientists expirementing with "What if I do this..." and they love the sense of control and power it gives them. Repeatedly threatening them with empty threats and seeing us get angry and out of sorts does nothing. So we are working with a child behavior therapist and reading Parenting with love and logic. And although I can't profess a miracle happened suddenly, things are making sense. With kids like this you have to set the boundaries and limits one time, and stick to it. The FIRST time she gets up in dance class and runs around, leave immediately, and tell your friend to keep her cool. And tell her daughter "This is sad, you arent behaving so we have to leave" But leave it that! ANd stick to it! With everything. Find a safe time out spot, when she misbehaves give her a warning "UH_OH!" and is she continues gently place in her time out room and say "You can come out when you're ready to be nice!" And when she comes out, say nothing. Be loving but firm! These methods are starting to work with my son, and I was at the brink of being very hopeless!!!

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answers from Williamsport on

Hmmmm what could she possibly use if not time outs.....hmmmm. SPANKING?!
Worked for us. We almost never need discipline. One calm warning. Consequence. On the butt. Every time. Never get mad. Be clear with your warning so she has a chance to cease and desist. Then enforce in accordance with her choice. If your friend is consistent and clear and calm, it will work. If she is random, angry, only does it at the end of her rope, it won't work any better than anything else.

Nipping things quickly allows more time to form right habits.

My own personal advice is to steer clear of any "anti discipline" feel good parenting books if her 3 year old is acting this badly (especially with aggression to one year old brother), or she'll start convincing herself it's ok her child acts this way and has no impulse control. The book Back to Basics Discipline by Janet Campbell Matson is a great guideline for being positive but FIRM. My kids are all great and some of my best tips came from that book.

God bless Supernanny. Parents across the country are wrestling their screaming maniacs on and off of naughty spots and locking them in their rooms to freak out, and you know what? None of my friends who use time outs have tantrum free kids. People will say they work, when the kids comply with the time outs sometimes, but bottom line, they have behavior happening in 5 year olds STILL NEEDING TIME OUTS that my kids would never try past 2. I'm glad time outs weren't invented when I was a kid, because we would have driven our parents insane.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Does your friend have her in a good preschool yet? my son was a spaz and i put him in preschool a couple afternoons a week at Kid's Klub in Pasadena..and he has just become this really great kid..also i don't time out..i do the hug it out thing..and it has worked great for us..when he's really acting up ..instead of going head to head with him ..i say..."lets hug" then i talk to him about what he's doing..i can't believe more parents don't want to try this..they'd rather do time outs and put their kids in rooms alone etc..when hugging it out works and is a great way to raise a loving child. i am constantly being told what a friendly & loving boy i have..
i see friends yelling at their kids..hitting their hands..timing them out..its so ugly..
i taught one of my friends how to be more kind w/ her daughter and got her to put her in Kid's Klub 3 afternoons a week.. her daughter has now stopped having tantrums and screaming all the time.

even though its hard..have your friend start hugging her daughter ..that will calm her daughter down and get her attention..then have her talk to her daughter...sometimes talking in a whisper helps..have her explain why she shouldn't interrupt class..
i also have a sticker chart..when he behaves himself while we're out or if he does some homework from a workbook i've bought him ..he gets a sticker..if he misbehaves a sticker is removed..when the chart is completed he gets a present..
so if he starts to act up and i don't feel like hugging it out..i will say.."ok i'm taking a sticker off your chart if you don't listen to me and not run around crazy" and he always says "NO!!!""ok ok!!" so that also works..
He was not an easy child..he was always so wild..and i'm very happy to see that this method worked so well.



have her check out www.handinhandparenting.org


have her check out www.handinhandparenting.org

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answers from Los Angeles on

good discipline will not always work immediately, many parents think that because some form of discipline doesn't work the first couple times it doesn't work at all. My son who will be 3 soon didn't seem to get what time out was all about, I kept at it though and right now he is a well behaved young man!!! after I would put him in time out I would talk to him and explain to him that what he was doing was not ok. that is why he was in time out, I also reminded him that I loved him and that mommy didn't want to see him be a bad boy, but a good one. after his time out he will now tell me sorry mommy I am a good boy and I love you. Another small thing that a teacher told me when she came to assess him because there was a probability of a speech delay was for example if my son is jumping on the sofa and I tell him damien sit down or you will go in time out. Don't repeat yourself but once because most likely he is not taking you serious and since he sees that mommy only talks and doesn't follow through. So, do follow through the first time with whatever consequences you promised he would have.

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answers from Columbus on

Time outs never worked for my son either, and spanking didn't help at all. Someone gave me the idea of a "time-in" which works if the bad behavior is an attempt to get more attention. It made a huge difference for my son! Instead of sending him to his room or a designated spot by himself, one of us goes with him. I will usually take him to his room (as he is screaming and thrashing) and sit calmly on the floor with him on my lap. I tell him that we are going to stay there until he is calm. If he tries to hit or kick, I just hold him tighter and remind him that he's not going anywhere until he calms down. Sometimes I'll talk about the situation that led to the meltdown, like "you really wanted another cookie, didn't you? But mommy said no. Did that make you angry? I wish I could eat cookies all day, but that would give me a tummy ache." Eventually he'll either agree with something I said, or get tired of trying to wrestle with me, and he'll calm down. Good luck!

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answers from Atlanta on

Okay so I just ran across this today and I plan to purchase the book myself and read it. It's written by Catherine Hickman "Regret free parenting". It sounds like there is a respect issue going on here yes even at the ripe young age of 3 but in order to get the respect you have to start them from the moment they are placed in your arms at birth.....read the book and tell your friend to read the book as well....I can't wait to get mine! lol! ;())

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answers from San Diego on

I have read some of the answers posted and wanted to put my two cents in. I was a nanny for a 6 week old up until she was 4 and babysat many children all with some behavior problems and finding ways to discipline kids that are not your own you have to be creative. One child would wipe her boogers any where she wanted. She wiped her boogers on me one time and I took her booger and wiped it on her precious blankie. She never wiped her boogers anywhere else after that. I have a friend that posted an article on gomestic.com that stated she was tired of yelling at her kids to not run in the house. She decided that the punishment should fit the crime. She got tired of telling them not to run in the house so the next time one of her kids ran in the house she stopped them, told them to put on her shoes, and run around the house 3 laps. Her daughter was speechless. She put her shoes on and ran around the house 3 times. It took only one other time before she stopped running in the house.

It's hard to discipline when you look into that angelic face and start to laugh or are so angry you can't see straight. My parents would tell me that they were disappointed in me and I'd cry because I always wanted their approval. Think of creative ways to make the punishment fit the crime. I had a child, my god daughter bite me once and I bit her back, not hard, enough to get her attention and that got her out of the biting habit. Spitting in the face, wow would I return the favor, maybe. Eye for an eye right?

When I was engaged to my awful ex, he had a son and the son tested me every chance he got. One day I had enough and said that he needed to leave my sight, I was so angry I didn't want to look at him. I told him that I didn't like him very much at that moment and that I didn't trust him. He went to his room, came back and apologized. He treated me with respect ever since.

I cringe every time I hear a parent count, 1...2....2 1/2....2 3/4....sweetie don't make me get to 3. The child answers before 3 and they are praised for listening? Really? You have to ask yourself when you discipline is it immediately or are you not consistent with it, because if the child is confused then any behaviour is okay in their eyes. It might also be that they are feeling left out with a new child and bad behavior gets the parents attention. In this case I would take a day where the parent gets to spend the whole day or special time with just mommy and child. That might help you get back on track. But remember, you shouldn't have to count to get the right behavior, one warning then a follow through, anything else is just a game.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

i agree with misty about the timeouts. they have to be consistent, they have to be done correctly. consistent means EVERY time. i'm sorry, but i admit it right now - the first and only time my son ever spit in my face, my instinctive reaction was to slap him. i am not proud of it, but he has NEVER done it again. there are times you just have to put your foot down and THAT'S IT. no more ms. nice guy. some behavior just should NOT be tolerated. any kind of physical violence (ideally) is an immediate time out, no negotiating, no talking, no giving in. also, as far as the dance class - i would leave. she may be too young to sit and focus, but if she is in preschool, or goes to sunday school class, or anything where mom is not in charge, she will probably do better if mom stays out of it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I've just finished reading "Setting Limits For Your Strong-Willed Child" by Robert MacKenzie and I found it very simple yet insightful. He does recommend time-outs as one form of discipline, as well as others, but does NOT advocate spanking. He gives many real-life examples, including instances where spanking just made behavior worse. It could be that your friend is not using time-outs effectively, or that her daughter, like many strong-willed kids, feels the need to test their limits over and over, and essentially "learn the hard way". He does emphasize remaining calm and in control, and stating things in a matter-of-fact kind of way, since for some kids, working their parents into a frenzy is just part of the game for them. The kids are controlling the parent rather than the other way around. Some parents, the way they phrase things, are really setting soft limits rather than firm ones.

I've had to use time-outs on my daughter a number of times when she chooses not to listen and they work, but I am very firm about them. She gets put in the corner, the timer is set, and if she moves from the spot before the timer goes off, the timer gets re-set. All-out full-blown tantrums earn her a trip to her room for 10 to 15 minutes, so she no longer has an "audience." In some cases I warn my daughter that she has a choice - do X or stop doing Y or there will be a consequence. Then if she does not cooperate, I tell her, "Since you chose to throw that toy, you are choosing to stand in the corner now." My wording is very clear. If she happens to scream about it, or give me a dirty look, I totally ignore it. I don't want her to see that I am affected by such things.

My only other thought is for your friend to work on her daughter's behavior at home before letting her be in any classes - she will need to tell her, "Since you can't behave like you are supposed to in dance class, you won't be going to dance any more until you show me you can do better."
Consequences (time-out, etc.) must be IMMEDIATE and consistent - no arguing or debating or explaining - "You did XYZ so now you are going to sit on the naughty spot for 5 minutes."

Something must be working for us because as much as she sometimes gives me grief at home, she's an angel for her preschool and gymnastics class and I get comments all the time on what a good listener she is and how polite she is. Though I must admit, physical aggressive behavior (hitting, spitting, etc.) has never been an issue for us. If your friend can't get that type of behavior to stop, she might want to talk to her pediatrician and see about getting her daughter evaluated.



answers from Los Angeles on

We had luck with time outs but had to be consistent. She would sit in a chair not near anything in the dining room (easiest room) beginning with 3 or 4 minutes depending on the infraction. If she got off the chair another minute was added and the timing started again, it it was originally 4 minutes it would be 5. I took out the timer and timed it off so she could hear the beep when it was done. She would throw a fit and sometimes we had to physically hold her in the chair. One time it was 45 minutes until she finished her punishment. I think she was 4 or 5 at the time. Being consistent and following through is what I found changed behavior. Her timeouts couldn't be in her room as there was too much to play with. Now at 7 if her behavior is bad we send her to her room until she gets a better attitude but she is of an age where she understands that.
Hope this helps.

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