What to Do When “Time Out” Doesn’t Work

What to Do When “Time Out” Doesn’t Work

When "Time Out" Doesn't WorkScreaming…. Meltdowns…. Temper tantrums…..Arguing… These are all part of the ugly side of parenting. What about when Time Out doesn’t work? When trying to raise three very different children, I’ve learned really fast that what works for one child, will most likely not work for another.

For example, Big Man loved being swaddled, the tighter the better. Well, when Little Miss came along, the key we thought we had to a wonderful sleeping infant was thrown out the window faster than you could say, “ZZZZ.”

We had to change tactics quickly if we had a prayer of sleeping a wink. When it comes to discipline, things have been no different. The tried and true method of “Time Out” had little to no affect on the behavior of Little Miss.

What do you do when Time Out doesn’t work?

She could sit in Time Out forever and get right up, say all the I’m sorry’s, and then turn right around and do the same thing again- it literally has done NOTHING to change her negative behaviors.

After a particularly trying day, I racked my brain to see if I could come up with something better.  She is at that wonderful “4 Year Old Girl Stage” where the simplest, “No.” leads to a half hour of hysterics and drama. (Insert giant parental eye role here!)

I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Mama Llama sweatshirt mock-up

Time Out just made the hysterics last longer and often led to an even bigger struggle. No one was learning anything about appropriate and acceptable behavior. Both of us just ended up frustrated and angry. Something HAD to change. I HAD to come up with something better when Time Out doesn’t work.

Any new plan HAD to:

  • Easy to understand, simple plan
  • Easy to implement
  • The ability to change behavior into something more positive
  • Easily grow and change as she grew and changed

I started by coming up with what she found “valuable.” Little Miss has recently discovered “coins”- you know, the ones that most people keep in their piggy banks, the bottom of purses, and left behind in pockets. These tiny things are like little treasures for her.

Now, she doesn’t actually know the values of each one-penny,nickle, dime, ect (yet!). There is plenty of time for that, she just likes to collect them in her piggy bank. So, I landed on this as an opportunity.

Using coins, I would be able to show her that wrong choices have negative consequences, there are always opportunities for redemption, and good choices are ultimately rewarded in a positive way.

Here is how it works, it is quite simple.

  1. Little Miss finds herself in trouble. She gets a warning that that behavior costs a coin. She can then choose to continue, or stop the behavior.
  2. If she chooses to continue (which after a few times of going through this, she rarely does…) then I march her to her bank and she pays up.
  3. I ask her why she needs to pay the coin and make sure she understands what she did and why it was wrong.
  4. This next step is VERY IMPORTANT: I remind her that now she has the opportunity to make good choice; if I “catch” her making good choices (sharing, being sweet, being helpful) then she will EARN her coin back.
  5. Once you “catch” her, make a big show of it- how proud you are, how she made such wonderful choice, ect…Hand the coin back to her and let her deposit it back in her bank.

Why I love it

  • It is redemptive and not just punitive.

    Just like life, it isn’t all about punishment. God’s love for us always allows us to repent and come back to Him. The way we discipline our children should follow the model of His love for us. No one person is all bad or all good, our hope is that by the end, we have done a whole lot more good in the world than bad.

  • There is opportunity for more growth and learning.

    When you work with money, it is so easy to work towards the ideas of coins having different values, saving money, and eventually you may be able to assign different values to choices, both good and bad. You could also expand it to charting and chores. Really, the possibilities for application are endless.

  • It includes taking responsibility and owning up for your choices and the consequences that come with our choices. Much like my post on asking forgiveness, this behavior plan requires my child to focus on owning what she did, not blaming others or offering excuses.

I will be the first to say that it is not a perfect plan, nor does it work perfectly every day. That is okay, my children and myself are not perfect people. There are days when we struggle with it. There are still days when we have melt downs and just have to throw in the towel and start fresh the next day. That is okay because that is life.

Much to my personal dismay, life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. We do our best with the best that we are given. This behavior plan works the best for my favorite Little Miss and as her mom, that is the best that I can ask for. I’ve FINALLY found something to do when Time Out doesn’t work!

Have you found something that works great for your little lovelies? Share below and have a smile this Sunday.


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  1. April 9, 2016 / 11:01 pm

    Ah, 4-year-olds! I have one as well, and he’s having *BIG EMOTIONS* lately! Time-outs don’t work for us either; in fact, his behavior actually gets worse in the long run. In the moment, it can be rough, but if he can focus enough to “breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth” and decide whether he wants some time alone or wants me to sit with him while he calms down, it really helps. Once he’s calm enough to talk, we discuss what happened, what choices could have been made differently, what made him angry/sad in the first place, etc., and I think he feels better because he gets a handle on what he’s feeling.

    Visiting from the Weekend Blog Share, btw! 🙂


    • Leanne
      April 11, 2016 / 8:53 pm

      Dawn- thanks for stopping by! Phew, you are so right, our 4 year olds have emotions so much bigger than their tiny bodies! And I’ll tell you, I’m the last person to be “sexist” but raising a boy and two girls, somehow those little ladies ended up with twice the drama, talk about BIG! Good luck on your journey and thanks so much for sharing your experiences with your little one.

  2. April 10, 2016 / 9:30 am

    Time out works for my toddler, but not the four year old. I can send her to her room and she just comes down a few minutes later in a different, sparkly outfit. I’ve found that offering rewards she can work towards by exhibiting good behavior are helpful. I like your coin idea too- my daughter loves putting money in her piggy bank!

    • Leanne
      April 11, 2016 / 8:57 pm

      Same here, time out works (briefly) for my toddler because she can’t seem to remember what she did 2 minutes ago before being on to something else. But boy, my 4 yo has a mind like a steel trap- she seems to really respond to the reward/consequence system. Let’s just hope it sticks for a while. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. April 10, 2016 / 5:01 pm

    It is important to teach actions have consequences from an early age. I never thought time out was a consequence. I can remember being sent to my room for misbehavior and having more fun than sitting at the dinner table (or whatever else I didn’t want to do). Great post.

    • Leanne
      April 11, 2016 / 9:03 pm

      Thanks! It is so funny how people are different, send my son to his room and his world ends. Not my daughter, she’s like you, she can have “fun” anywhere and needs that immediate consequence of loss. Btw- I love the title of your blog, definitely checking it out. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. April 10, 2016 / 7:31 pm

    That’s a good idea to use something she likes to help teach her a lesson. It is neat that you will also be able to teach her about the value of the coins at the same time. My 9 year old son really likes playing on the computer, so he loses computer time when he gets in trouble.

    • Leanne
      April 11, 2016 / 9:05 pm

      Yep. I think I read somewhere (perhaps one of my education classes?) about dealing with them in what they find valuable, whatever that may be. I know for my students, it is recess time. Works like a charm and they learn real world lessons, win-win. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  5. April 15, 2016 / 1:47 pm


    You are so right! Each child/person is different! As moms, we have to learn what motivates or discourages each child individually. We have to be adaptable. I love that your correction also includes a redemptive aspect. This is an important lesson to learn early on so that our children learn to repent and receive forgiveness from us the same as with our Heavenly Father. I may have to try this suggestion! Thanks.

  6. May 10, 2016 / 9:32 pm

    This sounds like a great plan…and so happy it’s working! We use something similar, in that every time they “Shine God’s Light,” They get a stone for their jar, and when it’s full, we go do something fun together as a family. As far as punishments, I have to find their “thing” and like you, make them pay up if they don’t change their behavior. It’s so funny how kids are so different!

    Thanks for linking up this week!

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