When Time Out No Longer Works

Updated on June 02, 2015
J.K. asks from Los Angeles, CA
23 answers

Time out (TO) no longer works for my 2.5 year old. We started using time out a few months after she turned 2. Yes, she still protests and cries when we initially put her in TO, but before the time is up she stops crying and it seems like it's not that big of a deal. In fact, sometimes she chooses TO rather than do what we tell her to do. For instance, she was rude to Grandma. We told her she needed to apologize. She is very proud and has an extremely difficult time saying "I'm sorry I ____." We gave her the option of apologizing vs. going to TO. She chose TO(!). Only after sending her to TO multiple times, lots of crying and tantrums did she finally apologize. Couldn't believe she chose TO... So what now? Take away her privileges? Something else? TIA!

Mamazita suggested reminding and modeling rather than TO, but what if I just need her to do something? Modeling is good for long term, but I don't think it's effective for things I need her to do NOW. If she offended someone, she needs to apologize. That's that. At this point, I don't think she's capable of giving a heartfelt apology or really think about and realize on her own why what she did was wrong. So I just want to teach her that if she wronged someonen then she has to apologize (I'll worry about the "sincere" part of the apology when she's older). But she won't. So if TO doesn't work how do I get her to do apologize?

What can I do next?

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answers from Springfield on

She's probably too young to take away privileges, because she most likely will not make the connection.

You might try to change the reason for a time out. For my boys, a time out is usually where they need to go until they can calm down or speak nicely or apologize of whatever. So it's not a set amount of time. Rather, it's a way for them to take a break and choose a better behavior.

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answers from San Francisco on

As a former preschool teacher here's what I did at school and home.
Two year old does something, let's say tries to push another child off swing so he can have a turn, makes other child cry.
Me: (firm voice, eye contact) Billy we do not push our friends, we WAIT. Look at your friend, how do you think she feels?
Billy: (looks at friend) she's sad, she's crying.
Me: What can you do to make her feel better?
Here the child would usually give the friend a hug or sometimes say sorry. We then had a brief reminder about taking turns (Billy what will you do next time? B: wait And? B: not push--it's important to make the child say what s/he will do, don't just tell them.)
Making your daughter apologize is missing the point, it's just meaningless at this age.
You need to TEACH her why what she did was wrong and show her how to fix it and do better next time.
You need to do that EVERY TIME, until she's mature enough to control her impulses and gain a real understanding that her actions and choices affect others.

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answers from San Francisco on

You need to get some books on child development. Not books on discipline but DEVELOPMENT, the kind of books preschool teachers use in their education/programs. You can check these out at the library (early childhood education.)
A two year old is still learning and you need to be modeling and reminding, not disciplining/punishing at this age. This is an ongoing process, not something you control or "fix" in any way.
Go into any preschool and observe if you don't believe me. The teachers are calm, they repeat themselves and redirect and remind constantly. There is rarely a time out and there certainly isn't any taking away of privileges, and the children (for the most part) are responsive and well behaved.
Please do some reading, and maybe take some parenting classes.

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answers from Washington DC on

well, good for her. forced apologies mean squat anyway.
try giving her a choice of time-out or some hard labor on grandma's behalf.
or if you really feel TO is ineffective for your kid, figure out her currency and go with that.
honestly, i think i'd choose a different route altogether for a 2 year old. i'd send her to TO in order to think about her rudeness, and let her come out when she had considered it and was ready to offer a more heartfelt apology. TO tends to work better as a place to sit and think, or cool off if necessary, but not to be a punishment in and of itself.

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answers from Kansas City on

I think you have TO a little mixed up- or at least, the way you're conveying it to her. For us , when time out is done - he still had to do "the thing". If he refused again, back to time out, until he decided to do as he was told. It's not an alternative. It's a chance to sit down and cool off and try again. It doesn't replace doing the right thing or doing what you've been told to do.

If you give her the choice, she's going to choose TO every time - it's easy, she just has to sit there. And that completely defeats the purpose.

What you said about sending her multiple times - yes, that will happen. Eventually she will learn it's not worth it. You have to stick to your guns.

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answers from Norfolk on

The thing is - time out was never suppose to be a punishment.
When a kid is doing something undesirable - the time out is suppose to separate them from the undesirable place/event so that they can be redirected to a more desirable activity.

When she is rude to Grandma, you tell her that she's hurting Grandma's feelings, she needs to stop doing that and say she's sorry for what she said.
You say 'We don't talk like that. I don't say anything to hurt your feelings - I don't call you bad names - how would you like it if I did? You would not feel good about it. That's why we don't say things like that. Now say you're sorry so we can have a nice visit'.

This is going to be a work in process for a few years.
She's only 2 - you're in prime time for Terrible Twos/Terrible Threes - she's going to be working on her communications skills for quite awhile.
By about 4 or 4 1/2 most kids are largely past this phase.

Since TO is not having the desired effect - you might have to do what most people do with tantruming kids which is scoop them up and take them home and put them to bed.
If they are tired/hungry - don't even TRY an activity/visit/outing - it's just begging for trouble.
Growing up takes a long time - try to be patient - and don't expect her to act any older than she actually is.

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answers from Columbia on

BLUF: Stop with the choices. You run the show.

If she acts like a brat, send her straight to TO. No negotiating, no explaining why. She knows why. When you call her out (after she's done crying, calm, and had some time to think), ask her why she was in TO. If she gets attitude or says "I don't know" defiantly, send her back. If she does say why, ask her what she needs to do to fix the problem and guide her to do so. If she refuses? Back to TO (and put her back in TO even if, when she realizes she's going back, she cries "okay, okay! I'll apologize. Nope! It's not a negotiation!). Lather, rinse, repeat.

ETA: I just wanted to add: I've noticed that parents usually do TO improperly. TO should be in a boring, out of the way location. No clocks or timers, no line of sight with windows, TV's, people, or anything. It should be a chair with a back that is not cushy, but not torturous to sit in.

There's no specific timeframe for TO. The "minute for every year of age" is BS. TO is for as long as it takes for the child to stop crying, tantruming, or lose the nasty attitude, plus 10 minutes or so to think and consider what they've done. Your mileage may vary.

When the child earns a TO, the parent simply says "Go to TO." Kids aren't morons. They know what they're doing wrong and don't need constant nagging and reminding. Telling the child to go to TO without explaining requires that THEY do the work and realize "Oh...I was doing _____." It puts the responsibility for their behavior firmly on their own shoulders.

There's no talking or coming out of TO. No "can I come out now?" No negotiations. YOU call the child out of TO when you're good and ready (which is sometimes helpful when you need to calm down yourself), and they come to you. You ask, "Why were you in TO?" And they respond. Nasty attitudes or backtalk result in a return to TO. Calmly taking responsibility for self results in them fixing the problem and moving on. Be sure that, if there is something you should forgive or apologize to your child for, you do so and them let it go. Forgiveness and apologies are important behaviors that we often demand of our children, but model poorly.

Hope that helps you!

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answers from Baton Rouge on

Just because she doesn't cry the whole time she's in TO doesn't mean that it isn't effective. You can't measure a punishment's effectiveness by how many tears it causes your child to shed.

So she chose TO, and had to go back multiple times, and threw a tantrum before finally apologizing to Grandma? Congratulations. You stayed consistent in your demand that she either apologize or go back to TO. She cried and screamed an still had to do what you said. She learned that you will stand fast in your expectations, and that tantrums will not change that.

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answers from St. Louis on

Didn't read all of the responses but I have to say I think 2.5 is too young to expect her to understand and give a heartfelt apology. Sometimes my stubborn 5.5 year old has a difficult time with that to this day! I think for most things as long as it's not dangerous to her or others (running into street, biting, hitting, hurting others, etc), you can reprimand and take the item away or remove her from the situation. Make it all about the positive. Instead of "You have to go to TO for not apologizing!" you could say "I like when we say sorry when we hurt feelings. I am sorry Grandma for hitting you," and hug grandma. Make a big deal when she does those things instead of what she is doing wrong. If you really NEED her to do something like get into her carseat, take a bath, sit down, etc - you need to make her do it, no warnings, no second chances. Put her in the seat, tub, high chair, etc. Just a thought!

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answers from Chicago on

Time out never worked for my kids. They just didn't care at all.

You have to figure out what makes her tick.
For my son, it was being ignored. I would stop engaging with him - at all - for as long as it took for him to correct the behavior. Sometimes that was 30 minutes to an hour.

For my DD, it taking away whatever it is that she loves most at that time (iPad, doll, crayons...whatever).

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answers from Salinas on

You can't force a two year old to apologize and mean it. In fact, you can't force ANYONE to sincerely apologize.

Too much talk on your part, why would you even discuss choices with her at that moment?

When mine were little it was "go sit on your bed until you can act appropriately". If they came back and acted up again (a rare occurrence) then back to TO. To me it's not a punishment but a little private time to reflect and adjust the attitude.

You might want to consider what you expect of her. What is your definition of a two year old being "rude to Grandma"?

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answers from Williamsport on

Too young for modeling. Too young for heart-felt apologies. Too young to understand lost privileges. You can somewhat enforce the habit of apologizing, but that's what your'e doing, the child doesn't mean it, and that's OK. It's still a good habit. For effective discipline I recommend "Back to Basics Discipline" by Janet Campbell Matson. Time outs were way too mild for all three of mine. I only used them to remove them from things occasionally if it would be meaningful to do so.

Also, how upset a child gets is not the measure of if something is effective, their behavior is the measure. If a child gets all wild and cries their head off in time out (like lots do) that doesn't mean it's doing any good, it just means it's a place where they're allowed to throw a fit for not getting their way. Of course it's not frightening to "go sit somewhere in time out" because it's totally non-punitive. It's pretend discipline. If you want good old fashioned behavior modification (A dirty, dirty word in modern child psychology-based philosophies), as in, the child does what you say and you control their behavior, then you need a calm warning and an immediate and firm follow through, so the child learns that the warning means "STOP". Including a warning about any tantrum about whatever they're screaming about. This way you have a child who heeds calm warnings, and you head-off habits that are harder to break later.

But some people prefer more positive parenting methods in which case you have to white-knuckle the toddler years and be patient through the time-outs. I didn't personally have time for that with three kids as a single parent who took them on every errand. They had to mind me or else. And I didn't have to get angry first. The book I mentioned is great for that.

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answers from Austin on

Asking a 2 year old to mimic an apology will not help. They haven't developed a sense of morality, of empathy, or the other qualities involved in an apology. Offense is a concept that a 2 year old cannot grasp. Even if a little playmate were to hit her, she'd only understand physical pain, not social impropriety or moral offense or hurt feelings.

There are some things we require of 2 year olds without hoping or expecting that they will comprehend. We hold their hands crossing the street, even though they don't understand that the driver of that big SUV can't see them or that they could trip and fall and cause an accident and put into effect a whole chain of events that would end in disaster. We feed them healthy food even though they don't get the whole nutrition thing. We insist on naps, car seats, mittens and hats in the winter.

But we can't expect them to have a sense of other's hurt feelings, empathy, sympathy, social expectations. Simply parroting an apology ("say 'Grandma, I'm sorry for breaking your tea cup" ) will be meaningless. Instead, you - the parent - say "we do not hit" or "we do not kick people" or "we do not tear books" and then you lead the child to time out, without any further words.

Later on, as you demonstrate kindness, humility and empathy, your child will learn those qualities. You say, when she's about 4 or 5, "I forgot Grandma's birthday, and I know that hurt her feelings. So I'm going to call her and tell her how sorry I am, and I'm going to tell her how special she is to me." Or "of course we're going to invite cousin Josephine to the party. It would be rude to exclude her. She's family. Sure, we had an argument last year, but we apologized to each other and we forgave each other." "I'm going to shovel our neighbor Mr.McGrumpy's sidewalk for him, since his wife is sick. It doesn't matter that he's grumpy - it's the right thing to do." She'll learn from you.

As far as needing to have something done NOW, what you need to do now is remove her from the situation if she has hit someone or bit someone or if she's ripping toys out of the baby's hands. You firmly tell her "you may not act like that" or "we do not hit", and you place her in a quiet spot. You remove eye contact and don't carry on a conversation. The concept of "offense" is not within her brain's capabilities right now. Don't ask her to do something that makes no sense to her. It doesn't matter how intelligent she is. The brain develops a sense of morality and kindness and empathy at an appropriate age, and by seeing it demonstrated (the same way that some kids see cruelty, see their parents hit each other, and hear profanity and hateful words, and learn to develop those same awful qualities).

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answers from Minneapolis on

I guess I am wondering why she was given the option of apologizing or going to time out? Shouldn't she have been sent to time out for the behavior and then still need to apologize? She is 2.5 years old, which isn't old enough to appreciate long term consequences so she views time out as a way to "be done." I certainly would not bring up the not apologizing any more - too much time has passed from the event. I don't think that adding additional punishment is probably warranted either. Maybe look at when to use and not to use time outs - used too often, they lose their effectiveness. Also, I would not offer options to a 2.5 yr old as a way to decide punishment - she is too young for that I think. Finally, apologizing for any bad behavior under duress is never really an apology :) The 2s are a difficult time for parents and kids - it does get better.

Good luck!

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answers from Washington DC on

My kids had to go to their rooms and sit on their beds until they were ready to come talk to me about their choice, explain what they did wrong, apologize, and move on. If that took 30 minutes, that's what it took. Time alone in their rooms (no TV, no toys, no books, etc) made them think about what they did that is against the rules.

At 2.5 she can absolutely understand right from wrong in the little things - not life changing events just yet. So if she is rude, she immediately goes to her room and thinks about what she did. If she can't figure out how to do that respectfully things get taken away or chores get added, or both. It normally takes 1 chore for my kids to stop what they are doing and follow the rules.

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answers from Chicago on

No, she doesn't actually have to apologize. The hardest part of parenting the first time around, for me, was learning to suck it up. She's 2.5. She has no clue what an offense is, what an apologize is, etc. She is learning everything for the first time, and with loving guidance, she will pick up what she need to learn.

Please check out ahha parenting. TO's are useless. Loving guidance gets the job done, as long as YOU have realistic expectations. You can't make someone else do something, and all forcing does is teach them to use force. It ruins the connection you have. Just think about how you feel when someone tries to force you to do something? The great thing about a 2 year old is that they are still highly distractable, so if they refuse, they usually comply a few minutes later. They honestly want to please us. When my daughter is being difficult, I leave the room. She won't get dress, I just say, "I'm going to go do X, let me know when you want help." The last thing she wants is for me to go away.

Also, the only things she need to do are things for safety, nothing else is worth fighting over. Mine eats candy in the morning. She'll have some jelly beans and then ask for a giant plate of fruit. No point arguing over anything that isn't a true safety issue.

Mamazita is absolutely correct. There is no need for discipline at 2. If they do things like hit, you say, we don't hit, hitting hurts. If they do it again, you distract them. Just say, you seem to be having problems being near Sue, why don't we go over here and do Y."

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answers from Boston on

I don't think apologies work when kids are too little to have empathy. They think "I"m sorry" makes it all okay. But it doesn't. So you don't want to give that message. I know you think she'll somehow "believe" it later on - but she won't. And the offended party isn't going to be helped by an insincere apology - in fact, the emptiness is more upsetting. The injured party WILL be helped by your immediate action and knowing that YOU don't consider it acceptable at all. The point is not whether your daughter "gets it" - but rather that your guest and your daughter see what your standards are, and that they are not negotiable.

I also don't think that time out is a place you go instead of doing what you were supposed to.Your daughter is making that choice because time out is not a negative thing for her. It's supposed to be incredibly boring and away from the action. So if it's a corner of the room or the bottom step but the child can still hear/see what's going on, that's no good. If it's banishment to a room full of toys, that's no good either. It can't be for a limited amount of time if it doesn't serve the purpose of making the child understand that she's been banished from the family activities. It has to be administered swiftly, firmly and with zero interaction. No negotiating, no explaining. "We don't hit!" or "We don't say 'shut up' to Grandma" and then into the bedroom, door shut, childproof doorknob cover on the inside. No toys out. If you have to, put all the toys in a couple of storage bins in the family room or a closet to be supervised by you. The bedroom has nothing but perhaps a comfort item/stuffed animal. You are not making her miserable enough. And YOU decide when she comes out - she doesn't decide.

For "simple" things like hitting or throwing things, immediate removal works. If it's at all vague, like not saying a certain thing to Grandma, you may to be more specific, but still put her in her room and say that you are going to spend time making Grandma feel better because you love her so much and you won't let Toddler Girl be mean to her. Then isolate her. And it's okay to have fun - laughing with Grandma and so on - let your kid know that she's not the center of attention and that you are not miserable when her nasty self isn't there.

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answers from Portland on

I'm not a big fan of time out. I usually would have kids either correct the behavior or take a break (in a quiet, out of the way place, boring chair, etc) until they were ready to come back and do as asked.

That said, I've never told a child that young to apologize. I just gave clear expectations for behavior. "You need to take a break. You may come back when you are ready to (be safe, use nice words, use gentle touches). A 2.5 year old might know what 'say sorry' means, but do you really want a child who just rotely does what is requested without understanding the 'why' of it? She's 2.5. She's in the throes of 'no'. A two year old doesn't understand the importance of apology, but that IS something that you can model. I have an eight year old and I always apologize to him if I feel that I was wrong in our interactions. That's how we model apologies, by giving them when the time is right.

And yes, a good book on child development is in order here. "The Science of Parenting" is one I recommend. Before age three, we usually look at these issues as learning mistakes rather than conscious choices. Think about it-- a two year old or three year old is going to say "no" whenever they can, just because they can.

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answers from San Francisco on

So you've got a stubborn one. :)

Choose your battles, but when it's something you feel very strongly that she needs to do, like apologize, just let her stay in TO until she's ready to do it. If that's an hour, so be it. Even at 2.5 years old, she can make that choice.

Obviously, save an hour long TO for things that are really important to you. You don't want to become too punitive at her young age. But saying sorry isn't that hard, even at 2.5 years old.

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answers from Washington DC on

You might look at a book like 1, 2, 3 Magic. Time out doesn't work for all children.

It also depends on what she did wrong. Two is a tough age, where they kind of get social norms, and they kind of don't. You can say, "Go give Grandma a hug and tell her you are sorry" but if she refuses, then maybe you need to so something different like Grandma doesn't want to play with her anymore. "I'm sorry, Tammy, but when you did x, that was not nice. My feelings are hurt. I do not want to play."

YMMV. Kids are all different. My SD was such a social butterfly that if you told her no, she could not play, it was more effective than a time out.

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answers from Portland on

What was the rude thing she did to Grandma?

My kids weren't really rude at that age. If just misbehaving, I would ignore her and keep talking to Grandma and she could talk to me and Grandma when she could use her nice voice or whatever.

We didn't include them until they were well behaved. I used to pick the baby up and move to the next room while they had a little fit, and I'd say "I will pay attention to you when you calm down and can talk in a nice boy/girl voice".

If they threw a fit - off for nap. It was usually overtired. I wasn't mean about it, but they would get a hug, their blankie, and we'd talk again once they were rested.

If they were just being bratty (as they can be), then we just paid no attention until they got it together. Kids HATE being ignored. We weren't mean, we just kept talking, but wouldn't answer them if they used whinging voice. As they got older, if they acted up somewhere, they didn't come on next fun trip in car (like for ice cream or to library).

I don't think I forced apologies unless they got what that meant. I usually worded it more that they hurt someone's feelings.

Good luck :)

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answers from Chicago on

2 1/2 is way too young for the kind of apologise you are looking for. Also time out doesn't happen after repeated big long discussions. It should be 1,2,3 time out. No discussion. No do you know why bla bla bla. It should be at that age just learning to obey your directions. When she's older you can reason with her. Don't give up on time out its an effective tool. My mom used to tell us kids that if she said jump the response was not why the response was how high. At this age you just want her to do what she's told but you need to pick what's important and a big long drawn out deal over a baby being rude is just not the battle to lose. You are expecting to much from a 2 1/2 year old.

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answers from Seattle on

Time outs don't work with strong-willed kids. They have way more energy than we do. We tried the timeout dance with my daughter for a while and it never seemed to work. She'd get up and run around or she would howl and throw a fit for hours. Or, she would just plain ignore you.

The way you are expecting your daughter to do what you ask, when you ask it, sounds a lot like me when I was a new mom. I expected that my kids would do what I wanted. I was a good, strong mom and why wouldn't they?! Then I had a strong-willed daughter. She had her own ideas about what she was willing to do. I finally wised up when she was older, but in the toddler/preschool years it was rough! I learned that you really need to pick your battles. If she is rude to Grandma, take the battle of wills out of the equation and simply say, "Oh, that hurt Grandma's feelings, what can you say to Grandma to make her feel better?" OR, "I think you hurt Grandma's feelings, maybe when you are feeling better you could give her a hug". No need to insist that she do something or else.

Lead by example and show her the actions and words that might smooth things over and help her to see how people should behave. Basically, teach her coping skills. Also, Grandma should understand that she is 2 and anything she says is straight out of a non-filtered brain. Don't take offense. Laugh and let go...this is coming from a mom who completely understands the frustration. It's a wild ride, but try not to get too worked up by her. Be happy that she is a strong girl and let go of most of your expectations to get her to conform. She probably won't. My daughter is a happy, strong, amazing 12 year old now. She's still strong-willed, but is mature enough to think before reacting now. She sure knows what she wants though! If I could relive the early years with her I would lighten up a whole lot more!

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