How to Address Bad Toddler Behavior and Time-Outs

By Tracy Wright

Terrible two’s and “threenager” are often terms applied to that toddler age usually associated with the age- old toddler tantrum. Already exhausted parents find themselves frustrated with how to deal with bad behavior from their toddlers. Time-outs are often cited as a possible solution. Now being six to seven years out from that stage with my children, I STILL remember struggling with bad toddler behavior and time-outs

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that time-outs can be an effective way to allow both parent and toddler to cool down. They recommend a warning first and explain to the children why their behavior is not acceptable. Finally, choose a place for the time-out that will remove the child from any sort of entertainment.

According to the CDC, “use time-out if your child does something dangerous or harmful, fails to follow a direction or breaks a family rule.” Once the time-out is chosen, it is important to explain what behavior triggered the time-out, what is going to happen and where, and how it will happen each time they break these rules. They suggest limiting the time-out to 2-5 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to limit the duration of the time-out to the child’s age.

One common problem for many parents (including me) is getting a child to STAY in time-out. If your child is frequently getting out of a time-out chair or corner, select a time-out room and remove any toys or activities that could interest them.

Local registered play therapist and licensed mental health counselor Kristina Chance suggests a relatively new trend where time-out is “handled more as a break from the toy/activity/other people in order to calm the body down and resolve the issue.”

“Time-outs should be with a calm parent present actively working to help the toddler through whatever got them in time out to begin with. This involves labeling their feelings, telling them the limit they broke and then offering alternative ways to handle those emotions,” said Chance, Ed.S., LMHC, Owner and Founder of Play and Wellness Center of Gainesville, LLC. “Connecting with children by being present while correcting them allows for more long-lasting changes because it creates multiple neural-pathways for the new behavior to form in the brain.”

Once the time out is finished, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends asking the child to correct whatever behavior put them in time-out, then praise them for that and initiate a “time-in.”

“Time-in occurs when your child is the center of your attention. Teach him that [positive behavior] results in reading and snuggles or play time together (time-in). If hitting results in time-out, but picking up a book results in time-in, he will learn to stop hitting and to start picking up a book instead,” the AAP said.

It’s important that your child understands your family’s rules so that they know what you expect of them. And remember that you help to role model behavior for your child in your everyday life. “You’ll make a much stronger impression by putting your own belongings away rather than just issuing orders to your child to pick up toys while your stuff is left strewn around,” according to the Nemours Clinic.

The Nemours Clinic also reinforces that while bad behavior should be addressed, don’t forget to acknowledge and reward good behavior. Just like negative behaviors have to be addressed, it’s important to make sure children know when they have done the right thing. Positive affirmation like “I am so proud of you for cleaning up your room,” or “Thank you for playing so nicely with your brother” can help children feel positive about their good behavior.


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