Timeouts for Toddlers…Pass the Punishment

I would really like to take a moment to talk about the pros and cons of spanking in this blog post. Oh, wait, no I wouldn’t. Nor will I ever. The editor of the blog (me) has a “No-Fly Zone” on several parenting and finance topics and spanking fits that category. I would, however, like to share the ‘punishment’ experience we witnessed this past weekend. My first daughter, now 3 months past 2 years old, has suddenly sprung an attitude. My little angelic cuddle buddy of just last month now regularly meets my affection with “NO WANT IT” and the growing ability to throw things, yell at peak volume, kick wildly, and swing her arms has her experimenting with THE RESISTANCE (my preferred term for this development).

            The Resistance only surfaces sporadically at this point but when it does, it comes fast and hard. I usually think of one of those dark, possessed movies like the Exorcist when this happens; I do not recognize this child. There must be an internal being within her that has taken hold. Here, honey, please take this cup of holy water to the face and snap out of it! I don’t know what happened to my little girl, but she’s definitely sharing another side of herself, to say the least. I’ll be honest, I really thought “terrible twos” was just a clichéd expression, but I think the millions of parents that came before me might have been right…the toddler stage is going to have some rocky battles.

My little monster is mostly behaved and we often go days without these incidents, but I can feel the winds-a-changing, if you know what I mean. Anyway, my wife and I have finally been confronted with the challenge of disciplining our daughter and settled on doing some experimentation with timeouts. Our agreed-upon solution would put the little wrecking ball in one of her chairs in the corner of our living room for a minute or two and we’d see how that goes. We’ve only assessed five or six timeouts in the last month but it’s mostly been a success. We talk her through what she’s done, explain she’s getting a timeout, and sit her in the corner with her hands on the wall. Is this the right way to do timeouts? Who knows, we’re learning as we go along. We’re not waterboarding or asking “Belt, Stick, Wrench” so I feel like that pretty much makes us Parents of the Year candidates.

After the second timeout, a week had passed with no further issues and, with the wife away, I was cooking in our open kitchen while my toddler played 10-12 feet away. When I wasn’t looking, my daughter had dragged one of her tiny table chairs to the “timeout corner” and had placed her 24” Elmo doll in timeout. I couldn’t quite make out the toddler gibberish, but I heard a lot of “no listening”, “no listen mommy and daddy”, “need timeout”, and “say sorry to mommy”. Poor Elmo didn’t know what hit him, but there he was, wedged into a tiny chair in the corner of the room with his head against the wall.

I didn’t really know what to make of this performance. She definitely caught on quickly to the purpose of timeouts so I suppose that is a good thing.

I still felt bad for poor little Elmo, but maybe he wasn’t listening…I don’t know the whole story.

Outside of some sympathy for Elmo, I found the whole performance hysterical, although it did make me reflect a bit on our punishment. When our toddler can recite a counseling conversation and timeout routine after only 2 trips (and pass this down to her stuffed animals), it made me realize how quickly kids internalize discipline and that my wife and I need to proceed with caution.

I’m all aboard the discipline and strictness train, but it’s clear that she absorbs the message much better than we realize. We both lose our tempers and sometimes shout out quick reproaches through gritted teeth and I suppose this just gives us a little more motivation to be as patient as possible. Perhaps our toddler is more sensitive than most, but we’re really trying to manage our discipline into conscious decisions rather than emotional and heated outbursts (we could stand to adopt this practice in our marriage!). She obviously has a quick understanding and retention of discipline; now if only she’ll use this knowledge to stop the tantrums!

One other funny observation I had from this experience was how succinctly it revealed human nature and mirrored my observations from the corporate world. As the saying goes “Stuff runs downhill”, and when mistakes get made at my office, the blame starts flowing down the food chain. Executives rip the directors, directs pass the blame through to the managers, and the managers exhort the worker bees for mistakes and yell and kick for better performance. Well, that’s exactly what I saw happening with my munchkin. She’d taken some heat here at Family Inc. that perhaps she thought was undeserved, so she immediately turned around and shared the blame with little Elmo. I guess it’s in our nature to pass the blame! Let’s just hope Elmo doesn’t get frustrated and try to leave for another organization. My toddler can be quite the demanding boss.

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