I’m going to count to three.

You better eat your veggies or you’ll be in time-out.

No hitting or it’s the time-out spot for you!

As the days of spanking are dwindling, a new method of taming the toddlers has entered the scene: time-outs. After all, no parent wants to be a doormat – we have to do something, right? On the surface, a time-out seems to be the perfect solution. We’re not physically harming our children yet we are showing them that “X” behavior is wrong.

As I started my parenting journey, I devoured every parenting book that my little town library had to offer. I had the disciplinary thing down. Who cared if I was only three months pregnant? I knew what I was doing.

However, when my precious little bundle hit the terrible twos and then terrible threes and then… the terrible fours, I started to have my doubts about my “discipline” plan. In our family, the age of four is where the poopy diapers hit the fan. 

Every day became a struggle. Even a simple request was not heeded until the dreaded 1, 2, 3 countdown began. Everything boiled down to “do this or time-out.” My role of warm and loving mommy was being replaced by a yelling, threatening, cold mommy. I didn’t like this new mommy. I wasn’t happy and neither was my boy.

After several alternate punishment systems (sticker charts, reward charts, taking away toys, etc.), my husband and I decided to try something completely different. Instead of punishing, we’d abolish time-outs. At first, I thought anarchy would set in and the preschooler would rule the household, but that never happened. I waited with bated breath for our plan to backfire.

Instead, we experienced three surprising benefits to going time-out-free:

1 | Improved behavior

To my surprise, my preschooler’s behavior improved. Where our previous punishment system separated the offending preschooler from the rest of the family, we now focused on discipline (which literally means “to teach”) instead of punishing and separating. Because we took the time to explain the reasons behind our rules or why we don’t hit brother or jump off couches, he was actually learning… which meant that he was less likely to repeat the offending behavior.

2 | Repaired the damaged parent-child relationship

“You hurt my feelings. I just want you to hold me. Mommy, hold me.” He was telling me all along what he needed, but I didn’t see it at first. He needed me, not a time-out that took me away from him! Eliminating the time-out has helped to repair our relationship. My son freely offers many, many more kisses and “I love you’s” since the big change.

3 | Increased levels of respect

As many parenting experts will agree, children are sponges. What we do (even more than what we say) is echoed by little ones. I see this firsthand with my two boys. (I have a bad habit of huffing, which both boys do when they are frustrated, but that’s another story for another day.)

After our household nixed the time-outs, I began to notice how my older son treated his brother. At the peak of our time-out days, our preschooler would yell at his little brother when he did something that he deemed to be “bad.” We even called them “baby time-outs.”

However, after the threat of a time-out was behind us, our preschooler started to talk to his younger brother in a different way. Instead of hearing “go to time-out,” I started to hear, “No, Brother, rules is rules. We have to do this because you don’t want to get hurt.” There it was: teaching, not punishing. My big boy is overall much happier and that is reflected in the way he treats his brother.

Ditching the time-out is not easy, especially when you find your bathroom soaking wet and a whole roll of toilet paper ceremoniously wrapped around the training potty, but this one change has dramatically re-shaped our family dynamic and helped us to be a happier, more loving, and more respectful family.