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Understanding the changes and challenges for 3-year-olds, and the pros and cons of using timeouts.

Changes for a growing 3-year-old:

  • they’re physically stronger and more capable and than they were
  • they have an increased command of language, so are better able to explain what they need and how they feel
  • they have a better understanding of the range of emotions they might experience, and are less likely to resort to tantrums
  • they’re learning to share and cooperate with others.

However, there can still be clashes, and even with the best intentions in the world whānau can find themselves in challenging situations.

  • External situations and other factors can influence what’s going on for the whānau.
  • Children don’t always get what they want or think they need.
  • Parents’ needs may be unmet, and having to care for children may bring those needs to the surface.

Any number of things can happen to disrupt peace and harmony.

To timeout or not to timeout?

So-called timeout became popular as a strategy for dealing with kids’ behaviour, especially as a replacement for smacking. Usually one minute per one year of age is suggested.

Timeout is not universally popular:

  • A child may:
    • need above all else to feel wanted and loved by their parent, who is rejecting them – ‘time in’ might be a better idea
    • learn to ‘bottle-up’ their uncomfortable feelings
    • develop other coping mechanisms, like a nervous habit, to get through the hurt.
  • Some parents have made time-out really scary – or used it inappropriately by leaving children alone for too long.
  • Timeout is a ‘punishment’ rather than positive discipline or guidance.
  • Where is timeout? Making the cot or high chair a place for punishment may backfire later when the parent wants the child to sleep in the cot, or have their meal in the high chair.

On the positive side of time-out:

  • Timeout can be reframed as being for the parent rather than the child, such as taking a break to calm down before you do something you later regret.
  • Create a chill out space or a thinking time to offer the child some quiet space and time to help recover until they feel like returning to others.
  • The point of timeout is not as a punishment, but a time to switch gears and change the focus of the moment.