We did start using a version of time out when Sprocket was about 16 mths. He has had terrible temper tantrums for several months now, mostly born out of frustration, so we try to address most things by talking to him about different ways to do things or the big one of making sure we explain to him what we are doing, when and why (especially when we are about to finish playing/leave an area/house/park). His language and comprehension skills now are pretty impressive, so this is getting easier to do, but also more important as he definitely notices if we don’t explain something.
But around 16 months he started showing an understanding of cause and effect, and that coupled with his stubborness started highlighting a few things. He realised that if he were to swing his block trolley at the cats/dog, they would make this really neat noise and run away – and chasing them while they make that noise is super cool fun! He also started to bite us if he was mad at us, and very distinctly started linking right from wrong (for instance if we told him off for doing something, he would look around the room for something even worse to do, usually involving hitting an animal). Our asking/telling him to stop made no impact whatsoever, it just became a game to him.
So we started telling him that we don’t hit/bite/whatever and if he did it again he get a time out. The version of time out we use is really just picking him up and sitting him down out in the hallway by himself. We never close the door, he can always see us, so it’s really just a withdrawal of attention while he’s there. We tell him why he is there, and that he can come back when he feels like saying sorry but we haven’t as yet put any time limits on it. He usually sits anyway from a few seconds to a minute, often getting distracted by something else but when he gets up we always pick him up and ask him to say sorry to whoever he hurt which he does willingly with a big hug and a kiss. I think by not forcing him to stay for a certain length of time, or keeping him from us, we’ve got it right for him. He can understand being moved from the situation due to his actions, but he can’t understand being kept from his loved ones/toys etc and so we’ve never once done the whole repeatedly putting him back on ‘the spot’ thing.
He learnt fairly quickly that those actions weren’t okay, but I don’t feel that we were exactly punishing him. Had we tried to get him to sit still for even one minute it would have become a battle of wills every single time and it would just be hard work for all of us.
For us this has worked well so far. We have only really done it for deliberately causing pain to us/animals, both to teach him not to cause pain and to prevent them from retaliating, and now at 19mths he can stop himself from being rough and instead will start patting them while saying ‘nice’. Or if we do have to warn him to be nice, he will mostly straight away stops and gives a hug and kiss to whichever animal. Other issues/behaviours like screaming we try to ignore, it really comes down to the question is this behaviour going to hurt someone or put him in danger. He has not actually been put in a ‘time out’ for a while now, as the warning is all it takes. At his age, I would not want to be trying to keep to a time limit or anything like that but sometimes the separation even just for a few seconds is a nice reset button.
The other thing we have learned is not to try not to say no, but to frame a more positive way to behave. So instead of saying ‘no spitting your water out’, we try to say ‘we swallow our water nicely’ or something like that. I find it very hard to stop myself from saying no instinctually, but when he parrots back ‘no,no,no’ and laughs while still carrying on, it proves it’s not as effective as I’d like anyway!
I think every kid is different, and the key is finding what works for you and your child, without making you crazy or compromising your core beliefs/values. Having said that I’m finding with a toddler that can sometimes be a sliding scale too – for instance I never thought I’d sit at the dinner table with my fairly conservative parents while my son fed the dog his peas off his plate, but it just wasn’t worth the screaming and food throwing that would have ensued had we tried to stop him.
At 19 months he can still get away with some things that he won’t be able to do forever, but for now it really is picking our battles.