The Time Out Alternative
So what's a parent to do with these strong personalities?
If you look into the research, most experts lean toward time out. And for my sensitive, always-wanting-to-please son, time outs work like a dream. He hit a friend, I put him in time out, and he didn't hit anymore, at least for a few days. But not my daughter! Time outs never seemed to phase her, so we went on a search for alternatives.
Actions and Consequences
Once they're old enough, kids pretty much understand that a certain behavior leads to consequences. If you kiss your baby brother, you get praised. If you pull the cat's tail, the cat might turn and scratch you.
So now is a good time to institute other consequences besides time out for certain behaviors. In our house we have a warning, then a couple of time outs, and after the third offense, something is taken away.
When taking this approach keep a few things in mind:
* Make sure the item taken away is something the child feels strong attachment to, like a favorite toy or book. But don't take away the one thing they sleep with, then you're only punishing yourself!
* Make the time the item is gone relatively short. They might understand actions and consequences, but they still have a pretty short attention span. I usually go one day at a time.
It can be easy to dismiss this as not working even as well as time out, but I'm here to say that with a little patience, you'll find it works wonders. I learned it first with our first dog!
To do this you have to pay close attention to what your child is doing, and be ready with praise, often! If they're sitting on the floor playing quietly, be sure to say "I really like how you're playing with your toys." When you're picking up toys together, mention how much you like the fact they're helping.
The list can go on and on, but the thing to remember is be very liberal with the praise. It won't spoil the child, only reinforce good behavior. If your inclination is that they should just behave this way because they should, that's true. But they've only been on this world for a few years, they're still learning the ins and outs of good behavior. It definitely doesn't hurt to point it out.
This strategy is like positive reinforcement, but a little more involved. Have you ever noticed that your children seem to act out the most in the evenings, after they've been with the sitter all day and you're trying to get supper on the table? But on a calm Sunday night, after you've spent an afternoon together as a family, they're little angels.. That's because spending some time with your kids can help give them the attention they crave. Then they're not as frustrated, tired and attention-seeking, helping cut down on the annoying behaviors that lead to yelling or punishment.
Don't Dismiss the Time Out
While time out doesn't exactly work the way I hope every time, there are still times when this form of discipline is very valuable. Time outs are a great way to separate a child from an exciting situation, or give them a chance to calm down. I find they work best when there's a big group of people at the house and my child just needs to get away and relax or calm down for a minute. Then when she comes back in the room she is better able to control her behavior.