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Celebrating 3 Years with No Time-Outs

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My daughter turned three last week. I had one of those holy crap moments – where has the time gone? I remember the moment she was born. This tiny little being floating up at me in our birthing tub. I was full of fear and hope. I had clear ideas of what type of mom I’d be, how I’d raise her.

What I didn’t understand at the time is how much of an impact she’d have on me. She changed me that day. She continues to change me, forcing me to look at the world differently. Questioning everything I do. Making me stop and think about the reasons behind my decisions.

During my early parenting days, I assumed there would come a time when spanking would be part of learning consequences. After all, I was occasionally spanked as a child and I turned out okay.

At the one year mark, I remember interviewing child care providers in anticipation of returning to work. Most used time-outs. Time-outs are the typical consequence given to small children in our neck of the woods. No red flags went up as we discussed discipline. Even at this point, my husband and I assumed that we too would give our daughter time-outs once she got a little older.

We are still waiting even as we celebrate her third birthday.

There has been several occasions where it’s almost happened. When she repeatedly hits me and thinks it’s funny. When she pees on me right after refusing to go to the potty. When she blatantly ignores me.

I’ve been tempted. But there’s always something that stops me. Something that doesn’t feel quite right.

The voice in my head that pops up each time is something I heard in my pre-parenting days. The only reason to put a child in time-out is to control them. It’s about control. Not teaching.

Although I wasn’t too sure how I felt about this concept at the time, it continues to pop up years later. It’s what stops me in my tracks each time. It’s what forces me to consider my ultimate goal, to dig deep and think of an alternative.

Hitting is not acceptable behavior in our household. No time-outs does not mean no consequences. No time-outs does not mean I have to sit there and take the abuse.

In those moments, I ask her to stop. I tell her “No hitting. Hitting hurts. Do you want me to hit you? Stop hitting me.” Most of the time she doesn’t stop at this point. But using my words is ALWAYS my first step. That’s how I want her to respond if another child hits her. To assert herself.

As she’s hitting me, I will grab her hands or intercept her swats so they turn into high fives. “I can tell you want to hit something. You can hit my hands instead.” This frustrates her because it’s not what she wants. She wants to hit my face or my leg and I’m preventing it. I’m turning it into a game. This is when she usually gets upset enough for tears.

I let her cry. I sit with her through it. Sometimes I hold her. Sometimes I give her space. That’s up to her. The tears are good. The tears are the release she needs for whatever frustrations have built up inside of her that caused her to hit me in the first place.

Once everyone is calm, we talk about our feelings. When you’re not doing time-outs you talk A LOT about feelings. Why did she hit? Does it feel good to hit? Does it feel good to hurt me? What could we do differently next time? What could she say to me when she’s really struggling to get my attention?

She has learned to ask for my attention. “Mommy, I just need your attention.” And even when it’s inconvenient, I need to give it to her at the exact moment she asks. I’d much rather her use her words than her fists and I need to reward her efforts.

If I’m in the middle of something then I will drop to her level and say “I’m in the middle of changing your brother’s diaper but as soon as I’m done you will have my full attention.” And then I follow through on that promise.

Sometimes, I’m not able to keep my cool when she’s hitting me. I’m human after all. I will ask my husband to take over. I will tell my daughter that I need space and walk away. It helps me to walk away and it lets her know that there are options. Learn to ask for help. Learn when it’s time to walk away.

Whatever happens, I always debrief with her after. I tell her how I was feeling, why I walked away.

I can’t remember making a decision to discard time-outs from our parenting toolkit. In all honesty, I wonder if time-outs would be easier.

Emotions are complex yet need to be explained in simplistic terms for a toddler to understand. We naturally want to resist the discomfort but what we really need is to lean into it. We need to get to the root of the issue.

Time-outs may stop the behavior but they will never get to the root of the problem. If we don’t address the cause then it will manifest itself in different ways.

I don’t want her to think that if someone doesn’t listen to her or if someone hurts her that the only way to solve the issue is to try to control the other person. She will never be able to control how someone else reacts. None of us can.

My daughter will never have the option of putting another kid in time-out if she’s upset with them. She will never have the option of putting me in a time-out if I ignore what she’s asking me to do. I need to lead by example and show her that there’s another way.

I want her to have the skills necessary to deal with those circumstances. I want her to have a deep understanding and self-awareness so she can identify her emotions before the need to lash out.

It’s not about getting her to stop hitting in that moment. It’s about getting her to want to stop hitting and recognizing that the hitting is a symptom of a deeper issue.

This is my ultimate goal.

This is why we don’t do time-outs.

Question: What do you do when you child hits you?

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