That’s me – the overthinking parent. My wife’s the same way. So tonight when we tried a time out for the first time, we were so wracked with uncertainty and doubt that it went kind of badly. She hit the new kitten with a drum stick after being corrected for her behaviour 100 times before, and refused to say sorry to him. My wife tossed an empty threat into the void – “say sorry to Albus or you’ll go to a time-out.” We have never done a time out. We didn’t have a game plan. But Avery has time outs at daycare, so she knew it was something she didn’t want. Nevertheless, she laid there on the floor and said “no!” defiantly.
So I improvised. The threat had been made, and I felt like I needed to follow through. I picked her up and took her to the front hall. I told her she was going in a time out until she calmed down. I closed the baby gate that separates the front hall from the rest of the house. I walked away. The screaming was ear shattering.
I started to panic in the other room after about a minute had passed and the crying didn’t subside. So I went to her and explained again why she was there. I reminded her of the misbehaviour and told her she was there until she calmed down. I tried to get her to take a deep breath. My wife and I were both standing with her at this point. We started to give each other glances that said “what do we do if she never calms down?” Then I worried that Avery had noticed our glances and we had made it worse.
She started to make up excuses to get out, like needing to go potty or blow her nose. She wiped snot all over her face through her screams. We were probably oozing uncertainty. We were coming and going, trying to help her calm down and then leaving when she would hit us in a rage.
After 5 minutes she still wasn’t calming down, so we changed the requirement for getting out of time out – she didn’t have to calm down while alone in the corner, but she at least had to say sorry to the cat for hitting him. Our consistency was slipping.
At this point I was feeling like I caused the whole meltdown. When I first hauled her off to the time out, she was just pouting, face down on the floor, for being told no. The hitting had stopped instantly when we told her to stop. If I’d just been more patient with her and waited another minute for her to say sorry to the cat, we wouldn’t be in this mess. The consequence had become so far removed from the original offending behaviour. It was the time out that caused the misbehaviour to escalate. I felt guilty for imposing a disciplinary measure that I wasn’t 100% on board with, and that I didn’t really know how to execute.
Eventually, she said sorry. It took about 7 minutes, but it felt like half an hour. The sorry was empty – which is all we could expect from a 2 year old who can’t fully process empathy yet, and who was apologizing for something that happened a long time ago, in toddler time.
After my wife took her to bed I spent a long time scouring parenting resources on the internet for time-out advice. I picked apart every aspect of how our first, unplanned time-out experience went, and I’ve made a mental list for how we’ll attempt it the next time. I’m still not convinced that it’s a form of discipline that’s right for Avery, and certainly not one to overuse, but since she gets it at daycare and my wife is inclined to try it, I sure as hell am going to overthink it until we have a solid plan.