Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Time Out

Back in November, I brought Lil' C to visit her pediatrician for her fifteen month check up. All was well-C showed off her walking skills, she played with a stethoscope. After making sure Caitlin's physical development was on track, Dr. P. asked about other developmental milestones-changes in sleep, how many words can she say, is she using a cup? Then, Dr. P. asked if C had thrown a tantrum. Tantrum, no? Arching her back and throwing her arms straight into the air as though performing a high dive and nearly sliding through my secure grip? Yes. But, no tantrums-yet. Then Dr. P said, "You know, you can start doing a time out now. One minute should be plenty."

I couldn't help but giggle to myself. The only time Wiggly C remains in one spot for one minute is either when she is eating, when she is asleep, when she is strapped into her car seat, or when I give in and put on Sesame Street. The thought of her sitting in a time out for one minute seemed as far fetched as her reciting poetry. I also laughed because I could not imagine my munchkin doing something to warrant a time out. Sure, she throws toys and food and sippy cups and rips bills and breaks remote controls and hides my iPod in the travel toiletry bag, but don't all toddlers do things like that? I could not imagine her doing something intentional, something malicious, which would result in a time out.

As usual, C proved me wrong. Last Wednesday, I stayed home from work to take care of C's disgusting, barking croup. While we were having a pleasant morning diaper change, Caitlin began kicking me in the stomach over and over again. This has become an ongoing routine during diaper change time, an increasingly annoying routine. At first, I ignored her behavior. When the kicking continued, I used my very firm don't mess with me voice and told Crazy Legs to stop kicking mommy. C found this hilarious, which lead to more enthusiastic kicking. Suddenly, Dr. P's voice popped into my head and somehow magically came out of my mouth, "Caitlin this is a warning. If you kick mommy again, you will have a time out." Despite my terrifying warning, C kicked away, oblivious to the threat of solitary confinement. Then, I found myself picking her up, placing her into her crib and saying, "You are in a time out for kicking mommy."

I left her room and closed the door, leaving it open a crack so I could spy on my kick boxer. I am not sure what I expected to observe during this time out. C crying, realizing she had done wrong? A look of guilty remorse as she stared at the door waiting for my return? A moment of quiet reflection, considering the consequences of her actions? Maybe an older child would display any one of those behaviors, but not Caitlin. As I peeked into her room, I saw C jumping up and down on her mattress while holding her stuffed monkey. Clearly, she felt terrible about her behavior. I went into her room after a very long minute and was met with even more exuberant mattress bouncing and giggling. As I told Caitlin her time out was over, I found myself stifling a giggle or two. Just like in the pediatrician's office, I could not help but laugh at the absurdity of a baby/toddler time out. I know one day the time out will be a staple in our discipline diet. I am just not sure if we are there yet. For now, the time out may give me a quiet moment when I feel myself losing patience. I have to admit, however, C has not kicked my stomach during a diaper change since the time out. Maybe, just maybe, she did learn a little something in between crib bounces. Maybe that look of guilty remorse did pass over her face, just for a moment. Or maybe I've gotten lucky for a couple of days. We will see what happens tomorrow.


  1. I cannot for the life of me imagine my 13 month old in time outs. We too have been blessed with a very well behaved child, but even if she did something deserving of a time out there is no way she would understand it or sit still for it! I have a good friend that just started doing time outs with her two year old and she said that the only recently became partially effective. He actually understands he did something wrong, but he still continues the bad behavior.

    Great post!

  2. I completely agree, I can't imagine giving my 16 month old a time out yet. But when I look back at my 4 yo when he was that age, it was a huge help getting him to stop biting. I will never forget the awful moment when I picked him up at daycare and they said, J bit another boy. To make it worse, I walked out with the mother and other boy and he had a mark on his arm. From that moment, if we caught him biting, we put him on the bottom step of our stairs and made him sit for one minute. It worked. I guess you will know when it is time. For now my younger guy is still an angel :)