Making time-out work for multiples

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Categories Behavior, Development, Toddlers

The first time I saw Alex purposefully hit Nate over the head with a toy and laugh, I realized the toddler years were here and we needed a discipline strategy. During the first 18 months, most experts recommend distraction and redirection for undesirable behavior. As with most parenting advice, 18 months is a guideline and needs to be assessed for each child. We found Alex outgrew redirection around 15 months while Nate outgrew it closer to 18 months.

There are many different discipline tactics and we chose to follow the same strategy our day care follows – time outs. A time out is an opportunity for the child to take a break from a situation and redirect their behavior. We’ve found each child’s reaction to discipline to be different. When Alex has to go to time out, he sits there quietly. When it’s Nate’s turn, he protests it and does everything he can to get out of it, including singing, rocking, laying down, wiggling, rolling, and anything else that might get attention.

To me, starting discipline was extremely frustrating. Not only were there two limit-testing, boundary-testing toddlers at the same time, but they would fight for our attention while we tried to discipline the other. There were many moments I felt like giving up! Eventually we fine-tuned our time out process. Here were the important lessons we learned along the way:

* The time out spot has to be clearly marked. I can not stress this one enough! Some people use a pack and play or stairs, but we use a rug. The reason for clearly marking time out space is so one child has to stay IN time out and the other has to stay OUT of time out. I think it took as much time to teach them to stay off the rug as it took to teach them to stay on the rug!

* Consistent and fair rules need to be followed. Following 1-2-3 Magic, we don’t do timeouts for “start behaviors” – behaviors we want the boys to do (brush their teeth, wash their hands). We use timeouts to stop negative behavior and my husband and I always follow the same rules. Hitting someone is always immediate time out. Standing on a chair gets a warning. Each twin is watching the other twin get disciplined, so it’s doubly important to stay consistent.

* Use their name and use short sentences. This seems so obvious! The boys would be fighting over a toy and Nate would shove Alex. I would say, “Go to time out.” and two little boys would walk over to sit down together. Or I would give them a long lecture, but young toddlers have cavemen brains and they stopped listening. Now we use the Supernanny method of holding their shoulders, looking them in the face, and saying firmly and calmly, “Nate, you are in time out for doing xxx.”

* Be flexible. Our strategy has always been to not give the child in time out any attention so that it does not become a game. But some days, I’ve got dinner on the stove, my husband is out of town, Alex is crying from hunger, and Nate refuses to stay in time out. In those instances, I modify the situation. I sit the time out kid on my lap, face the wall, and hold them there for a minute. While not the method we use every day, we have used this in restaurants or in public when one of the kids needs to take a break.

Now that we’ve been using time outs for a significant period of time, it has become less labor-intensive and less frustrating. The boys know their boundaries and while they do not always respect them, they are starting to learn the consequences. Now we just need to stop the boys from putting each other in time out! Share some multiples time out strategies in the comments… I’m still learning and could use more help!

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6 thoughts on “Making time-out work for multiples”

  1. Ooh, I’m so scared of this stage…..thanks for the helpful hints, and making it not look too scrary.

    Caught the kids eating the cat food this morning. Hard to know what to do about that one! (The words, “No, no, no!” were out of my mouth before I could even think).

  2. I obviously don’t have multiples, but I was a nanny for triplets for a while. I just enjoy reading this site, and this topic is one I’ve been having issues with too! I watch a boy who is a little older than my 24-month old daughter, and when I started, they showed me how they do time out so I could be consistent with him. After a few months of my daughter watching this, I thought it was time to start it for her as well. The only problem is, as soon as I talk about “time out” she gets excited. If I ask her to stop doing whatever, and she refuses, I tell her it’s time for a time out, and she says “ok, yes!” and goes to sit down. Lol. As funny as it is, it’s obviously not working. Help!

  3. Fabulous post. I’m just going through this at the moment with my 19 month old twins. Oiy, do they try my patience especially with the hitting. I have one that will listen to the word ‘no’ and knows that she is doing something wrong but will immediately blow me a kiss and say ‘hi’ so as to appear all cutesy pie. My little hooligan on the other hand will pout at the word ‘no’ but will go right back to doing what he shouldn’t be and will quite often laugh while we try to discipline him.

    I will definitely start trying them in a time out spot. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Thanks for posting this. At 20 months we need to start doing something more clear and consistent rather than redirecting/pulling away. Much as with sleep training, it’s hard to start! It is helpful to read what worked for someone else, so thanks.

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