Imaginary friends, no time outs, and two more ways we’re compassionately disciplining our preschooler

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So here’s the thing about discipline in our house: up until recently, we had no idea what to do about it. We went through a flirtation with time-outs for a while — we had a special chair that was in a special spot, and whenever it seemed appropriate, we followed through with asking/making our then-toddler sit in time out. It never felt totally “right” but it didn’t feel wrong, and it was better than other alternatives we knew of at the time. Eventually I grew to resent time out as much as our son did, and after reading an article talking about time outs and sending your kid to his or her room, I talked to my husband Sean and we tried to come up with another way to accomplish a similar goal through different means.

We bounced around ideas for a while, and in the last few months have come up with a plan that everyone in our family is comfortable with and responding positively to — including the three and a half-year-old. Here’s how it shakes out:

We use a three-tiered sticker chart

The first sticker chart run.

The sticker chart we came up with has three levels of achievement. Our son gets one sticker if he does something on a small scale that we already expect him to, like asking an entire question instead of “Can I have that?” or cleaning his toys. He gets two stickers if he does something he usually resists, and three stickers if he’s exceptionally well-behaved (beyond commonly expected levels of politeness) or demonstrates that he’s actively working on a behavior (example: he likes to knock over towers that kids at school build — he’s the youngest in his class by around 8 months, and he thinks it’s funny. They do not.) or something just really awesome.

Being that we’re not too big on strict rules, none of these levels are set in stone — we don’t have a list of behaviors that merit whatever number of stickers. These are the guidelines we initially set up, and something we try to keep in mind. The chart has eight columns and 12 rows — at the end of each row is a number (1-12). The first time we did the chart, he earned little privileges like 20 minutes of computer games or getting to watch a short episode of a show he likes. When he hit the 12, he could go out and pick a small toy. Now, when our son gets to the end of each row he gets a small prize — some random knick-knack or treasure that’s $3 or less.

The current chart!

Our son has been way into amassing stickers now that he understands that we’ll follow through with what we promise, and the stickers have been a gentle motivation — instead of saying something like “If you don’t listen well while we’re out then we’re not going to go the zoo later,” or telling him something he does is “bad” when he starts to demonstrate less-than-stellar behavior, we can ask something like, “Oh hey, what do you like best about your sticker chart?” and it more positively reminds him of the incentive he has to be his generally sweet, awesome self. It’s not always successful, but it’s a good way to focus all of us on whatever the problem is.

My husband has an imaginary friend

This idea should be partially credited to a woman who works at our son’s school. Sean was concerned about two off-and-on behaviors (hitting and making sounds when our son wants something instead of speaking) that don’t make a lot of sense — there aren’t precedents set for them in the house. We had been trying different techniques to deal with both, and for the Curious George-esque sounds (he’s a fan of the show), we would just ask if our son could ask us with his words instead of his sounds.

The woman suggested that when we’re both together with Jasper we ask one another what Jasper might be trying to say. Sean took it a step further and invented an imaginary friend for the times when we’re out solo with Jasper. We ask the friend why Jasper was making sounds, or what the friend thinks Jasper might be trying to say. (When we’re both with Jasper, we ask each other.) So Sean came up with Harvey, a rabbit who he started speaking to when I was out of town (and who is totally inspired by this movie). It’s a funny thing to think about — he’ll usually say something like, “Harvey, what do you think Jasper might be trying to say?” and then act like he’s listening to someone. He’ll reply to Harvey’s statement (he usually says something like, “Yeah, I’m not really sure, either. It would be so helpful if he would use his words when he’s asking, don’t you think?”) and at that point Jasper’s usually giggling and tells him what he was originally asking.

I should note that Jasper doesn’t have any type of condition that makes speaking hard. He’s very verbal and articulate most of the time, which is why the random times he lapses into sounds is confusing.

There’s a “Thinking Spot” instead of time out

This is our modification on time out: instead of one designated area that means a kid has done something wrong or bad, any spot in our home can be a Thinking Spot. We ask our son if he wants to pick a spot to think about why he’s angry or frustrated, and he usually picks a spot and goes there. I don’t know for sure, but I think the combination of having some kind of agency and being given the opportunity to think over what’s happening calmly works with our son’s personality, and that’s why this works. It’s been infinitely more successful than time outs, and I think that’s partially because Sean and I both really love this idea, and we’re much more consistent and confident when implementing it.

Friendly Hands are ALL THE RAGE

“Friendly Hands” is one of my new favorite terms — instead of asking our son not to hit him, Sean will ask if he can use his Friendly Hands. It doesn’t mean he stops hitting, it just means that the conversation is being framed around being respectful and he’s being given an opportunity to calm down. I also feel like the idea of Friendly Hands is nice on us as parents — we also get a chance to stop, take a breath, and refocus the situation.

What gentle discipline techniques have worked for your families?

Comments on Imaginary friends, no time outs, and two more ways we’re compassionately disciplining our preschooler

  1. What???? Why aren’t there any comments here! I need more suggestions, especially since I’ve recently become aware that my 2 1/2 year old is ALWAYS whining about everything!

    • If I had a nickle for every time I said “I’m sorry, I can’t really understand you when you talk to me in that voice. Can you please talk to me in a normal voice instead?” I would probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8.5 million dollars.

    • I wasn’t sure that one of the kids I was nannying understood the difference between the whiny voice that he sometimes used and his regular voice, so a few times, I parroted the whiny voice (saying something along the lines of “I don’t like it when you whine like this…”) followed by my regular, calm voice (saying something along the lines of “but I’m happy to listen to what you have to say when you talk in your regular voice.”). Once he figured it out, I could just refer to his whining, and he knew what I meant. It seemed to do the trick.

      • As a kid my parents were always referring to me “tone” of voice. I NEVER understood what they meant, unless I was overly whiny and tantrumming. Even to this day people have a hard time with my “tone of voice,” not recognizing if I am being sarcastic or an ass (most often it’s sarcasm). So I think parroting it is crucial for people. I listen back to old videotapes of me and I can hear that “tone” they were annoyed with, but I had no clue and no tools to express myself differently. It was SO frustrating.

        • As a kid (and early teen) I had a massive problem altering my tone of voice when I was stressed, upset or just whiny. It made things really difficult if I wanted to get my point across and I was just being told to change my tone.

          Now I do better, normally by having a pause while I try to gather my thoughts and calm myself. But I also try to be really careful how I talk about other people’s tone of voice, because I know that sometimes it is just hard to control. I basically only talk about it now if I feel like they are being aggressive towards me, rather than just upset and annoyed in general.

          However I agree that whining is unpleasant and it’s good to encourage children to not do it – but some kids (like me) will need help learning how they can make that transition.

        • I still get this with people, usually when I’m asking them a question. They’ll respond with the answer and something like, “… but you don’t have to give me that attitude.” I still have no idea what “attitude” they’re talking about because to me it’s just a normal voice. So now I always try to be extra cheerful when asking people questions (especially if I’m asking them to do something for me), but this often comes off as sarcastic.

    • i don’t know if this will work as well on a kid that young, but for the 4-year-old we babysat very regularly, we used “i can’t hear/understand you when you whine.” as it happens, little kids will do a lot to avoid being ignored. generally, we would start with the more gentle “i can’t understand you” and move to a more strict “i can’t hear that voice” and no response at all as the whining escalated. the other key is to respond immediately and positively when it stopped (not always with a yes to all requests, but if not, then with a positive comment on the nice asking/talking).

      note, it took us *years* (as regular and frequent, but not primary, parental figures) to get him to *start* conversations without whining, but he learned fairly quickly to at least take the hint and stop whining when we said it.

  2. Our friends with a 3 year old who we sit for sometimes use a variation of Friendly Hands (Gentle Hands) and also what they call “Clam Hands”. Their kid knows when he hears “Do your clam hands!” to clasp his hands in front of him, fingers interlaced. It’s a good way to get him to slow down a sec if he’s getting too wound up, and it’s SUPER handy (har) if we ever have to take him into a Porta-Pottie or other gross place.

  3. I love these ideas! Sometimes i struggle with discipline for my 6 yr old daughter, she’s got some communication delays that have thrown a wrench in the works occasionally. Something that works well for me thats not exactly punishment is simply asking “should we try that again?” it seems to let her know that what happened wasnt ok and give her an opportunity to reframe without a time out or overly severe consequence. I use it mostly when she gets to rowdy 🙂

  4. I love “Friendly Hands”. It’s always better to ask for the behavior you DO want instead of try and stop behavior you DON’T want. Friendly Hands gives kids the correct action…letting them then get praised or rewarded for doing the right thing, and also stops the bad behavior. This is something I learned in animal training, and it’s awesome to see an example of it in child-rearing.

  5. I read somewhere that kids often don’t realize when they’re whining and so it’s more helpful to bring it to the child’s attention and suggest an alternative than it is to shame or punish. We use this a lot with our three year old with a lot of stuff. With whining instead of saying we can’t hear her or saying “no whining” I’ll say “oh hey, did you know you are whining right now? Why don’t you try asking that again in your regular voice?” or I might model a polite way of asking. She responds VERY well to this.

    I use this a lot with other sorts of mis-behavior that I interpret as a sort of natural and unconscious acting out. My kiddo is not super verbal and it has been a challenge for her to use words instead of her body when she is angry or even just excited in a positive way. Re-direction, suggesting an alternative that may be more effective for her, has worked well. It is a win-win – I don’t have to get mad and she gets some ideas to try next time she has a similar experience that may work better!

    That being said there are times when I really feel that my kiddo’s behavior is about testing a boundary. And we have some established consequences for those situations that, unlike redirection, are more about establishing a norm of behavior.

    • I agree with Alissa! …and moreover you teach them to be *caring* for others (pay attention to what you are doing – just because it’s something you do, not because there is a sticker). You treat them as intelligent and sensible beings that way, not Paplov’s dogs! In general I don’t like anything that gives the rewards in order to do something. It teaches the wrong moral principles and grows grown ups that are only going to do something if there’s something in for them? The extreme use of these rewards systems in american schools is actually something that freaked us out – read more what I blogged here (interestingly, there’s an imaginary friend there too… )

  6. When I was smaller it was never called time out- instead I got asked to go into the kitchen/wherever to “find my happy face”. I recall it worked… although looking back it seems kinda odd! Haha!

  7. I didn’t find this book until my older kids were like, 10 or something, but I’m reading the SHIT out of it now that I have babies again. My two year old was driving me insane until I remembered that oh yeah, I have a fantastic super helpful resource: Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower. Life is getting so much better day by day.

    My other big help is googling Montessori activities. Most are totally free and use stuff in your house. Who knew my whiny, making loud noises, up my butt son would LOVE to sit still for thirty minutes and spoon red beans from one bowl to another?

    Also, yes! Would love to see the sticker chart!

  8. I’ve found (both as a kid and as a caretaker/aunt) that short time-outs (2-5min) can be helpful for younger kids to get control of themselves. But I don’t “send them to their room,” as you do, I let them pick a spot that’s not going to cause conflict with any other kids to collect themselves for a few minutes before I go over to talk to them.

    For older kids, I do as my parents did, and send them to their room or other quiet spot until they can come back and apologize calmly. Sometimes this is 5 minutes, other times it’s 30 minutes, and still other times after the hysterics they fall asleep or read a book. I know I found this really helpful as a pre-teen with anger issues. I could feel that I was out of control, but I couldn’t make myself disengage – being sent away forced that disengagement and eventually I could calm myself down.

    • My mom’s rule was always 1 minute per year of age. If they were throwing a fit, they got a minute added on until they could calm down. Time out in her house is more of a calm down time

  9. Love all of these suggestions. Here’s my biggest challenge: What to do when an older child hurts his younger sibling, and shows no remorse or interest in talking about it. My 3.5 year old frequently trips his 19-month-old brother, or tackles him, or punches him for knocking over his tower, etc. My 3-year-old is not a generally violent kid–and he can be very loving and protective of his brother–but these abusive moments are so frustrating. When I try to talk to him on his level about these behaviors, he’ll just wiggle around and “check out” and refuse to acknowledge hurting his brother. Time outs have helped somewhat. Maybe I could do stickers for when he’s kind to his brother. But what should I be doing just after an attack? I’m flailing here, people!

    • Maybe Friendly Hands? Jasper will randomly hit Sean, and Friendly Hands has helped a lot with that. I’m sure the dynamics are different because you’re talking about siblings, but in the beginning we would tell J that if he used Friendly Hands all day he could do something fun, like play computer games (PBS Kids) for 20-30 minutes. “All day” is kind of up to you — I personally feel like that’s a pretty abstract concept for a 3.5 year old to totally get — but we were basically going for Friendly Hands as much as possible. Now he’s at a place where he doesn’t really get a reward for Friendly Hands, he’s just proud of himself when he remembers and uses those instead. We don’t label behavior that’s NOT friendly as bad, we just encourage him to stop, remember his Friendly Hands, and decide if he wants to use them.

      When he DOESN’T and he decides he really wants to just hit Sean, things are still a little tricky. The outcome is basically one of these: we ask him to go to a Thinking Place and he does until he’s calm, or he flails around and shrieks.

      • Thank you for saying this last thing. Alternative discipline doesn’t always work, just like regular ole discipline doesn’t always work. So don’t feel bad if you’re trying all of these fancy new tricks and your kid is sometimes still a menace 🙂 As long as it’s working most of the time, it counts.

        • I don’t consider any of this “fancy” — it’s what we’re comfortable with, and what we’re planning to stick with because when it does work, we’re all much happier than with previous discipline ideas and methods we’ve tried.

          The category on this, It Worked For Me, is meant to be taken VERY literally. This is what’s working for the three of us, in our home, in our lives. It’s most certainly not meant as a judgement on any other method of discipline, and it’s not condemning anything.

          Having said that, I have no problem admitting it doesn’t work all the time, and that my 3.5 year TOTALLY old behaves like a standard 3.5 year old — the good and the not-so-good. 🙂

    • I’m not at that stage of parenting yet, but while babysitting that age I’ve found it helpful to try and look for patterns of what happens right BEFORE the preschooler hurts the baby. Maybe he’s trying to get adult attention? Maybe he has a feeling he doesn’t know how to express except physically? Maybe he’s hungry? If you can find a pattern, it might be possible to head things off in advance, before they get to a crisis point. It might also be possible to start giving him tools to recognize for himself before he gets to the point where he wants to hit something.

      • I’ve been fascinated by the interactions between preschoolers and toddlers. It seems like preschoolers have just begun to get a handle on expressing themselves verbally, and then they find that it doesn’t help them with toddlers. Preschooler tells toddler to stop, toddler doesn’t listen, preschooler freaks out. My strategy is to try to teach my preschooler some of the tactics I use to regulate a toddler. “You can gently brush his hands off your toy and calmly say ‘no’.” “You can walk faster than them, so you can pick up and go to another room.” “You can hand them something else they might like to play with.” “You can call for my help in a loud but calm voice.” I think we like to imagine that a toddler and preschooler should be able to play together nicely, and I’m sure they can sometimes, but I don’t think they’re a naturally compatible pair.

        • This is such an interesting comment! My son is the youngest in his class by 6 to 8 months — most of the kids have been 4 for a while, and he won’t be until the end of March. He’s getting used to interacting on the level that they do now, but most of September and October was spent explaining to him why it hurts his friends feelings/makes his friends angry when my son knocks over a tower his friends were building, or doesn’t keep his hands to himself. It’s been an interesting experience!

        • Okay, with my two year old I’m learning (slowly, so slowly) that often when he starts hitting his brother that it means he NEEDS SOMETHING TO DO. If he doesn’t need food, a drink, or a nap…then he’s probably bored. He doesn’t need to be entertained, he needs a j-o-b.

          It doesn’t always work, because kids, but seriously it helps so much to get him sorting blocks or asking him to tear up lettuce for dinner or cut up a banana with a dull kids knife, using a sponge to move water from one bowl to another and back again, or something that makes him feel important. Google Montessori activities, cheap and they help a lot. Good luck!

      • I agree with looking for patterns – it sounds like he’s getting really frustrated with the baby. I’d try talking with him at a time when he’s not frustrated and see if you can figure out what’s wrong. saying something like. “I’ve noticed that …. gets in your way when you’re building blocks and knocks down your towers. That must be really frustrating when you’ve spent ages building one.”
        Then let him vent a bit and once he’s got it out tell him you understand how frustrated he feels and you’d like to help him come up with a way to stop the frustration. Explain that the toddler is too little to understand how he’s making Mr 3 feel, so the best idea is to come up with a way he can’t wreck his activity. Maybe he could build towers on the table where the toddler can’t reach? Or build some towers specially for the toddler to knock over? Some big kids like to go in a playpen to keep their work safe too.
        The idea is to help him feel empowered to prevent the issue happening himself – rather than you having to step in.
        I can totally relate to your 3 yr old- I get frustrated with my 18 month old knocking over my piles of neatly folded washing!
        hope that helps!

      • Thanks for these suggestions. There are times when I can see it coming, like when the baby is hovering around my 3 year old’s tower building activities. I need to do a better job of heading those off. The more confounding episodes for me are the ones where my older son runs by my little one and sticks a hand out to push him over or bumps him over for no apparent reason. (I saw his older cousin do this to him a few times when he was smaller, so it does seem like a thing some kids just do.) Also, they’ll be playing on couch cushions on the floor, and my older son will belly-flop on the little one very purposefully and then try to pretend to me that it’s not his fault that his brother was just “in the way.” Sometimes, I think he does these things out of curiosity just to see what will happen. Sometimes I think he just doesn’t know how huge he is (he’s very big for his age, and my little one is more average size, and thus much smaller than him).

        • My kiddos are 22 months apart and the oldest definitely did this a LOT with the youngest for a while. It definitely stressed me out – torn between wanting to understand the older and protect the younger.

          My oldest is three now and we have her take a time out when she just randomly pushes/shoves/hits her sister. It’s been effective, in combination with talking about whose job it is to touch/move/discipline her sister (mom or dad’s job) and offering other positive ways to interact.

          Of course “effective “means “happens less” not that the behavior has been eliminated. It is just something kids do.

    • I’m currently reading “It’s okay NOT to share.” That book has a specific chapter about sibling rivalry. A big theme in the book is allowing children to have their emotions, and jealousy of a new sibling is perfectly normal. But another theme in the book is the one rule – that any behaviour is okay as long as it’s not hurting anyone (yourself, anyone else, or property). So, the author recommends saying something like “I know you are upset with [younger sibling] right now, and that’s okay, but it is not okay to hit him.” (it even says it’s okay to say “I know you don’t like [younger sibling] right now…”) Then it offers suggestions for how to let the older child vent their frustration in other ways, like writing a note about their feelings, making a plan that allows the child to know they’ll get what they want (maybe attention), or even hitting a pillow. It’s a great book!!

  10. Good for you looking for alternative discipline techniques! And thanks for sharing that link. I’ve always wondered how to put into words why I don’t like timeouts. My aversion to discipline makes me wonder how I’ll handle tough situations with my soon-to-be-born twins. I feel very strongly about explaining things to children as soon as they can understand you, rather than disciplining them. But, of course, you never know how well things will work or how good you’ll be at them until they actually happen. I feel like if one of them talks in sounds, I’d probably make the sounds back. That might show them that they’re not making sense, and turn it into a game, instead? But the Harvey technique is smart, too!

    • I also try hard to remember that just because my kids can understand me, doesn’t mean that they can understand me, if that makes sense. Kids don’t develop empathy and reasoning skills for a loooong time. So asking (or implying) that they should be able to do those things ends up being an exercise in frustration for all of us. I haven’t found it helpful, for example, to ask my kids to be able to think about how hitting someone else might make that other person feel. They don’t get it. They can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes. What has been good, however, is when I say, “You can’t hit your brother because I love him. And it makes me sad when someone I love gets hurt.” They don’t have to empathize with someone else’s feelings, but they understand that there’s a reason that they have to stop the behavior.

      Also, it’s important to remember that there’s a really really important difference between negative reinforcement and punishment. Punishment is “You’ve hit your brother. Go to your room for 30 minutes.” Negative reinforcement is “You’ve hit your brother. You need to go to your room until you can come out and be nice to your sibling.” In the second scenario, the child is still in control, and the good thing (being nice) is being rewarded (rejoining the family).

      The fact is, sometimes kids, at least my kids, do things that are just completely unacceptable and they need to know that they can’t do that EVER AGAIN. Other things, like whining, are going to happen over and over, and so that’s more about a learning process. Different techniques work for different things.

      • You say you haven’t found results in expecting empathy, and it made me think of something I’ve kind of asked for a while: People say to keep punishments developmentally appropriate, and of course there’s something to that. But what if you have to start something in order for them to develop enough for it to be appropriate? What if, to use your comment as an example, you HAVE to ask the kid to put himself in someone else’s shoes and think how they would feel, in order for the kid to start thinking about how to do that and eventually learn?

        This convoluted thought process has definitely made me re-think some of the tactics my ex and I used with his daughter when she was little. We found that it really helped to know what the goal was in each parenting decision–were we going to ask her to empathize in order to help her learn empathy? Because if so, then it suddenly became A LOT less frustrating when she wasn’t succeeding yet, because obviously if we’re trying to TEACH her empathy then she can’t be expected to have learned, internalized, and “know better” yet. So knowing what she needed to learn before she could even be prepared for that lesson really helped too–like knowing that if she only speaks 3 words, she can’t possibly be expected to make a complete apology to someone, so let’s hold off on teaching a “proper” apology and just be happy with stopping or starting whatever else we were trying to accomplish.

    • that’s really interesting – i mostly feel like (good) discipline is a form of explaining things. that is, there is a difference between punishment and discipline, and well orchestrated discipline is a lesson in cause and effect.

      like, there are natural consequences to things (hot things hurt, etc.), but there are lessons that are more complicated, and can be hard for a little kid to put together, so as a parent you can add a more obvious step into the cause and effect (ex. “when you try to break things, you can’t play with them anymore” rather than: kid breaks thing, kid is pissed of thing doesn’t work, kid doesn’t see connection between the two.)

  11. We do the thinking spot thing too! When she misbehaves my daughter has to sit on the stairs and think about her behavior and when she’s ready to talk about it she can get up and talk about why what she did/said wasn’t acceptable and what a better choice would be for next time.

  12. I once took over a very unruly classroom for half a school year. The sticker chart was one of the things I used. While it worked, ultimately my takeaway was that the chart made it really clear which behaviors were valued. In my future teaching I ditched the chart and replaced it with the following: 1)Stating my expectations for behavior often, including repeating things I thought should already be known. 2)Anticipating any difficult situations and strategizing, either by avoiding, changing the circumstances, or giving extra careful instructions about my expectations. 3) Being willing to call all activity to a halt to discuss behavior if things got out of hand. 4)Expressing my disappointment emphatically and repeatedly if expectations were not met. 5) Discussion. This last one is really variable, depending on age and personality. I like to explain the reasoning behind my expectations to the extent the child can understand. For toddler “Hitting hurts. Makes sad.” For 8 year old, a 1-5 minute discussion about how to deal with frustration and anger. For my 3 year old I can usually get a few sentences in at a time, so I often break up the conversation into pieces when I know she’s listening, like when she’s captive on the potty or in the carseat.

    • I forgot one of my most important finds. I realized that kids only have so much ability to restrain themselves, so I tried to balance all expectations of restraint with opportunities to let loose. Like having crazy dance time before going to the grocery store. Or park time before going to a restaurant. Or flailing arms after a test.

      • yes – when I was doing teacher training one of things that was emphasized for younger kids was the need to balance energy. we would alternate energetic and calm activities as a way of preventing out-of-control behavior. Too much up time can end in hysterics and kids going nutty – it’s good to follow with calm time. Too much calm time doesn’t give them the opportunity to release their energy and they get nutty again. Finding this balance was a nice way to prevent discipline issues. So was the positive reinforcement (reward) provided by the sticker chart. All this was more effective than punishment or yelling which does not model the appropriate behavior.

  13. There’s a great series of books called Positive Discipline that has wonderful ideas for all age groups. One of the reasons I really like it is that it delves into what might be going on in the kid’s head to help you understand what’s going on. Often, “misbehavior” is because they are not getting something they need.

    Regarding the speaking like a monkey thing, it’s totally developmentally appropriate for them to experiment with non-articulated speech like that, even if they are very verbal. It’s just one of the ways they test out cause and effect. It really sounds to me like you are doing some wonderful things!

    I use walking feet and dancing feet instead of telling my daughter to stop running in a situation where she shouldn’t be running. I’ve definitely found that telling her what I want is much better than telling her what I don’t want.

    Another thing we do is when we ask her to go calm down (which is our version of what you’re calling a time out) I ask if she wants me to go w/ her. I’m happy to hang w/ her and help her calm down (we often do breathing and yoga things) as long as she’s being kind to me too. I don’t see any reason to not be with them to help them calm down unless they are hurting you in some way.

    I love the letting him choose where to go to calm down. I’m definitely going to have to use that one!

  14. I’m wondering about the sticker chart idea as a long-term thing. My gut reaction is that it would seem to teach a rather materialistic mindset, and to put the emphasis on reward rather than on learning about how one should behave for its own sake. I am not at all against the occasional or ad hoc arrangement of rewarding good behavior with prizes, and it also seems like a short period of sticker chart might be a good way to break a pattern, but I would be interested to hear if anyone has thought about and found an answer to this sort of hesitation. I hope I have conveyed the right tone here – I’m not criticizing this choice at all but am just interested.
    Also! Thank you so much for the brilliant idea of choosing your own place to calm down, rather than being sent to a specific place. I have a feeling that might be really useful around here (so far the choice has been are you going yourself or do I need to take you ;))

    • Totally something we have thought about! Sometimes he gets computer time or a trip somewhere (we have a membership at a museum here, so usually that). Sometimes he gets a “special snack” (yogurt, Pirate’s Booty). This is totally an evolving idea, and it’s something we evaluate pretty frequently.

      Neither of us have ANY problem telling him when we’re not buying something in general, and we also have a rule where we don’t buy him things in stores when he sees them and is all “I want thaaaaat!” My husband is also the least materialistic person I know, so I’m sure part of me relies on knowing that. We definitely think about it & try to keep that aspect in check. Right now, the benefits across the board (behavior, attitude from everyone, etc.) are seriously outweighing potential negatives that might happen if we totally abandon our parenting responsibilities — I feel like extreme materialism is learned from an overall lifestyle, not just one specific thing like a sticker chart.

      We’ll see! Maybe I can get back to you in a few years. 🙂

        • Definitely, but this brings up another good point — the rewards aren’t always, or even usually, instant. When we were on the first page of the sticker chart it definitely WAS more about instant gratification, but he’s presently about halfway through the second page and he’s way more mellow about the entire thing. Sometimes he gets a sticker on the number at the end and will ask “Can we go to [museum] later or tomorrow?” The great thing about that is that we take him to this specific museum as often as possible because we all love it, so it’s likely that we were already planning on going. Sometimes the reward has been something as everyday as going to the playground and pretending to be pirates — what we’re finding is that with our son, a lot of the excitement about the sticker chart and about getting some kind of reward is all in how the potential reward is presented to him. ENTHUSIASM!

          He also has a piggy bank, and whenever we get quarters from the bank for laundry we sometimes get a few $1 coins. He loves these because they’re gold/treasure, and he’ll sometimes get one of these for his piggy bank. Funnily, he’s more impressed with nickels and pennies, and if you give him a choice he’ll ask if he can put three pennies in before a $1 coin. So this works as both a sticker chart reward AND a way to introduce the concept of money to him.

  15. We do “Time Ins” instead of Time Outs.

    It’s similar in that she is temporarily removed from the situation or activity that is causing her to feel angry, but instead of being isolated, I go with her, give her a cuddle, and help her to calm down and then we talk through the problem and come up with a way to “Make it Right”.

    My daughter is VERY responsive to physical contact and is very physically affectionate, so this works really well for her.
    And we find that this way we avoid isolating her, and eliminate all the elements of shaming that I hated about Time Outs.

  16. It’s remarkable how parents seem to have zero authority over their own kids these days. Because of this, they feel the need to bribe, reward and practically beg their kids to obey and behave properly.

    How about teaching kids to behave properly without rewards or anything else, just because you say so? How about teaching them to obey you just because you are the parent and you know best? Sometimes you don’t need to give a reason or explanation for what you are telling them to do! (This is especially true when it comes to young children, who can’t fully understand your reasons anyway.)

    If you’re standing on a train platform and your child gets away from you and you yell, “STOP!” because they’ve gotten too close to the edge, are they trained to STOP, immediately – with no explanation, no negotiation, no debate? If not, it could mean their death.

    I say this because I saw a kid behaving exactly that way on a train platform the other day. He had ZERO respect for his mother. He taunted her and yelled, “No! I don’t want to!” when she repeatedly told him to come to her. Thankfully, he wasn’t close to the edge. But if he had been, he would’ve behaved exactly that way. And so would she. She called and did the “1… 2…” thing but none of it had any teeth to it. And the kid knew it.

    Parents are to be respected, period. It’s for the child’s own good, because the parent is looking out for the child’s welfare.

    All this coddling and begging would be fine if it only affected those families. But eventually, a parent has to release the child into the society. We’ve now got an entire generation of children who have no idea what it is to behave properly, unless it comes with a reward.

    • There are trade-offs though. I don’t want my kids to learn to do something just because an authority figure tells them to, because so often those authority figures are wrong. Either they are posing as authority when they’re not, or they may be asking my child to do something dangerous or downright stupid.

      I WANT my child to question the boss who tells them to serve moldy cheesecake to a customer “because I said so.” I WANT my child to question the disappearing money in the budget they oversee instead of ignoring it because their boss tells them to. I can’t expect my child to learn to question authority in these situations without first teaching them to question it in a loving home environment where they can learn the reasons for behaving the way we do.

      It’s important then to differentiate between dangerous situations like a kid trying to fall to their death, and non-dangerous situations like doing chores around the house or changing a whiney tone. The behavior from the parent can’t be the same in both situations–both in having appropriately alarmed behavior and tone from a parent whose child is in danger, and having an appropriately calm tone from a parent who just wants their kid to say please.

      • Children already know how to question authority. That’s why they’re challenging yours as a parent and therefore require discipline to begin with!

        And goodness, if you haven’t figured out things like not serving spoiled food to a customer or to report missing money to your boss by the time you’re old enough to be working, there’s something seriously wrong with you.

        In fact, doing the right thing in these two examples you gave might actually cost you your job. If all a child has learned is ‘Doing the right thing will earn me a reward’ (even if it’s just being told you did the right thing), then they may not be inclined to do the right thing in situations like these.

        Or, they may do it expecting at the very least to be thanked, and then they’re shocked when they are reprimanded or even fired by a boss who has no ethical standards of this kind!

        Little kids need to obey their parents without question. As they get older, then they can be taught how to think things through. But this relentless bargaining that I see by parents more and more ends up looking and sounding like pleading.

        PARENTS are to be in control of the home. Not children!

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