Originally posted December 3, 2014 by Dr. Lindsay Evans, additions made December 18, 2020 by Amanda Dixon
Time-out can be an effective discipline technique for many children. However, some parents may want to approach challenging behavior without the use of a consequence that can evoke many strong, negative emotions. There are many other discipline strategies that you can use in combination with or as alternatives to time-out. These strategies are best for times when your child is misbehaving in a minor way (if a child is engaging in dangerous or aggressive behavior, immediate parent intervention and removal from the situation is best).
And, just a reminder, the most important tool of all is consistent and specific praise for appropriate behavior. Often times, challenging behavior can be reduced by providing attention and praise for behaviors you want to see immediately after they occur. If you do decide to incorporate time-out, be sure to check out this post to learn how to do an effective time-out with your child.
1) Try a “Do–Over”
Sometimes your child may behave impulsively in a moment of excitement or frustration, even when they know the rules. For such minor misbehavior, try letting your child know that their behavior was not acceptable, but they can try again. You might try saying something like, “You didn’t use nice words when you asked your Grandmother for another slice of pizza. Can you try that again saying please?” This serves two purposes: It gives your child a warning that their behavior was not acceptable and it also helps your child practice the appropriate behavior.
This strategy is best used for rare occasions. If you find yourself giving your child “do-overs” repeatedly, you might need to consider another method.
This is often the simplest way to intervene when your child is misbehaving and it is a particularly helpful strategy for younger children who may have difficulty remembering rules and using self-control. This involves moving the child to a different area or removing a toy or object until the child’s behavior has improved. You can also substitute a new toy or activity to distract your child from the source of frustration, and say, “It looks like this toy is making your frustrated; let’s play with this instead.” Then, make sure to praise any behavior that is appropriate.
3) Make Amends
Often, children are forced to “say sorry” after a wrongdoing. An apology can be a very meaningful thing and help to repair disruptions in relationships. However, apologies become less effective if they are forced on a child as a consequence for misbehavior. When we do this, we run the risk of teaching our children that an apology is meaningless. Here is a great article, “A Better Way to Say Sorry,” about how to guide a child through an apology using a four-step format, 1) “I’m sorry because….”, 2) “This is wrong because…..”, 3) “Next time I will….” and 4) “Will you forgive me?”. Try role-playing these steps with your child and encourage them to apologize using this format.
4) Give Your Child Two Choices
If your child is misbehaving but not breaking a family rule (which would require immediate consequences), a warning with alternative choices is often enough to change the misbehavior. Approach your child and say, “You are not allowed to keep all of the toys to yourself. You have two choices: You can take turns with your brother, or you can go play in another room.”
5) Take a Break
This strategy is similar to a time-out except that you take the break with your child while they calm down and you use this time to have a discussion about how your child is feeling and his/her choices. If your child is losing control or getting upset, a cool down period can help them work through strong emotions and decide on the next step to take to right the wrong. This step might then be followed by a “do-over” or an apology. This strategy is not for children are misbehaving to get your attention.
Overall, evidence is clear that corporal punishment has limited effectiveness and has potentially dangerous side-effects. Time-out as well as many of the options listed above are positive strategies that can be integrated into your parenting approach based upon your personal parenting style and your child’s individual needs. Whichever parenting method you choose, it’s critical to provide enough quality, one-on-one time with your child to reduce the likelihood of misbehaving for your attention.