The conundrum of disciplining a toddler

Recently, my husband and I have been introducing the concept of “time out” with our toddler, who’s not yet two years of age. We understand that she may not get the entire gist of time out–forget about “reflecting upon what she’s done,” that’s for when she’s older. And as for sitting in a designated spot for an allotted amount of time, well, we’re working on that. Typically we aim for her to sit for about twenty seconds, which is a long time for any toddler. After all, she can’t even count to ten so I don’t think she understands that she has to sit for double that! But she does understand that she has to sit in one spot. That much we know she knows. In fact, when I tell her that she’ll have to sit in time out if she doesn’t listen, she immediately sits down and gives me the most angelic smile–I have photos to prove it!

Well last night was one of those times when the discipline was an exercise in futility. In truth, there was more exercise (for us parents) than futility but we weren’t able to have one without the other. Sure, our daughter would sit in the time out area for about a millisecond, then get up and run away, giggling with laughter. Or if she didn’t run, she’d scoot on her bottom to move away from us.

On the one hand, I found myself getting rather frustrated that she A) didn’t listen to me in the first place and we were now doing the time out thing and B) surely wasn’t listening to me now because all I wanted her to do was sit still. How hard can that be? She’s a bright child, after all. Oh, and C) I was tired of chasing her down and bringing her back to the spot. I’d had a long day and having to chase her down was not on my agenda at this time of night.

But on the other hand, I was delighted to hear her laugh and giggle with such joy. To her, this wasn’t a time out, it was a game. And she was having so much fun with us! Even my husband found himself dropping the “Daddy Tone” and smiling at her antics after awhile. I had to step in then and tell him not to let her see him smile, after all, time out is serious business! Yet after another few minutes of aerobics and exasperation, he turned to me and asked why I was trying to put her in time out in the first place. And I couldn’t answer him. That’s when we called it quits and had a group tickle hug.

Disciplining a child is hard enough to do. One has to learn by experience, really, what works and what doesn’t. And no sooner do you have one proven technique down pat then your child changes and you have to start from scratch again. Plus, what works with one age group won’t work with another. As parents though, we have to teach our children discipline and to abide by the rules. Yet once and awhile, like last night, you realize it’s just not worth it. If I couldn’t remember why I was putting her in time out in the first place, then she didn’t need to be there, because what was I really teaching her? Ah, the conundrums of discipline….

My daughter just turned 1 a few months ago so the idea of true discipline is a bit foreign to us. Yes we have to ensure that she knows right from wrong and that she doesn’t touch things she isn’t supposed to but let’s be realistic. She’s 1.

I’m personally not a fan of time out. As a youngster my mom would send me to my room and tell me not to leave until she said so. Worked for me! I love to read so being sequestered in my room was heaven. If she really wanted to punish me she should have sent me outside to run around the block. So from my point of view sitting someone down to “think about what they’ve done” doesn’t cut it.

What worked on me and my husband was a spanking. Yes I know some people are totally against spanking and believe that it’s cruel and unusual punishment. But the thought of having my behind spanked was enough to stop a lot of the things that I thought about doing as a child. I will agree there is a limit though. My mom would spank us for anything and after a while it became a joke to try to outrun her. My father on the other hand reserved his spankings for really big infractions. Usually his stern voice was enough to get us back in line but if we went too far, a spanking we got. And was it ever painful. Yes the hand or the belt on the behind hurt, but not as much as the disappointment you felt from my dad.

So what I’ve learned is that spanking doesn’t work if you use it like it’s the only tool you have. You also have to teach and be aware that you want your child to respect you and the other adults in their life. I’ve had to spank my daughter’s hand a few times, as has my husband. Ugh did it hurt our hearts. And did she ever make a show of it. She’s even gotten “spanked” by the cat for pulling his fur (he doesn’t have front claws but she cried anyway). Immediately afterwards we’ve spoken softly to her (as she screams and cries alligator tears) and explained why she shouldn’t do whatever. And then we give her a hug and a kiss. I’ve come to realize that my most important role is to bring up a well learned child who has respect for others and knows that there are consequences to every action. Hopefully we’ll learn from her as much as she’ll learn from us.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Such Beautiful, beautiful words and little do we forget that positive words of encouragement, child’s touch, love & giggle hugs makes all the difference! Thanks for Sharing Your thoughts, I hope the comments to continue to blossom & grow endless…Namaste, P.s. I hope the folks here at work (posted on the cabinet walls) will appreciate it, but I’m sure they will so thanks again. 🙂 SLE


  2. Posted by yinmama on August 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Thanks so much for reading our blog. We’re glad you enjoyed it. Check back for more posts as we go through the exciting journey of raising toddlers!


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