Our adorable daughter, almost 2½, is strong-willed. This leads, occasionally, to meltdowns at the dinner table. Lauren and I both feel that neither screeching nor throwing things is acceptable. When her brother, now 9, was dealing with similar issues, we found that “time out” was an effective corrective. He found banishment such a shattering experience that our bargaining power, once he got the linkage between crime and punishment, was tremendous. With the girl, not so much. When banished, she sits in the corner and burbles in a cute kind of way. And recently, when she’s getting toward the end of dinner, on a few occasions she’s slipped out of her chair and said, in her adorable little munchkin voice, “Now I go time-out, bye.” She toddles over to the penalty box, leaving us nonplussed, to emerge in a couple of minutes chortling gleefully. Someone is unclear on the concept and I’m not sure it’s her. What’s the next option, the cat o’ nine tails?


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From: mehdi (Nov 12 2008, at 22:29)

With my 3 1/2 year old Son, distraction seems to work best. At his worst times, reminding him of something he did/does well (eg: wow.. did you draw that in school today?) seems to do the trick. It works about 80% of the time (for us)


From: Stuart (Nov 12 2008, at 23:23)

My daughter was similar at that age (my 10 year old sone responded well to time out's... it's a female thing I betcha) :)

We had to use escalated penalties with her. I created a series of colored cards (she was on green by default. Blue was 1 step up, yellow was 2, red was the ultimate) Each card represented ever more serious punishment (time out, time out plus no snacks, time out plus no snacks plus no tv or computer... extending to the next day if need be). The threat of "I'm going to have to turn your card!" worked great. It was especially effective if timed to coincide with her brother getting a snack/TV/computer time.

If she was thermonuclear I would announce that we were going for ice cream later but only people who ate their dinner and were without turned cards could go. And I would do it. Painful as it was it only took 1 time and a "turned card" was magic from then on.

She still has a temper and very strong will (she's 7 now) but it helped greatly. The cards, by the way, were kept prominently displayed in the kitchen on a decorative cork board featuring a cartoon character I created named "Angry Ant" who had a speech bubble about taking a breath and counting to 10.


From: Victor Panlilio (Nov 12 2008, at 23:43)

Children do not come into the world civilized. They have to be taught the difference between what is and what is not acceptable. Otherwise, they become like the Wall Street monsters described in The End: nice enough people on the outside, but devoid of any real sense of right and wrong.


From: Matt Thompson (Nov 13 2008, at 00:31)

Tim - you obviously have it easy. We tried time outs in the corner w/our son (when he was 3) and he literally will not sit for more than 20 seconds... this leads to escalating levels of threats (none of which have any impact...)

Given that we agreed to never actually spank our kids, the only think we've found as a reasonable deterrent to his absolutely worst breakdowns is threatening to put him in the shower w/his clothes on.

We've only ever had to to do it once, and since that time the threat of a shower is enough to calm him down virtually every time.

Note: we fully realize this threat of punishment has a very limited lifespan. Our son loves to take baths, he also likes to jump around in the rain, so it's only a matter of time before he figures this one out...


From: Jeni (Nov 13 2008, at 01:49)

We used the naughty step and time outs with the eldest, but I never found it really effective. In fact, I think it rather increased the feeling of conflict.

Having been through it once, and knowing that she's just doing what two-year-olds do, has made it a lot easier with the youngest. Also reading "How to talk so kids will listen" has given me some other strategies which fit better with how I want to parent.

So we distract if possible, empathise if we can understand what the problem is, ignore for as long as we can take it, and take her away to sit quietly (with her) if she needs longer to calm down. And then lay on really thick how delighted we are when she recovers enough to rejoin us.


From: Juno (Nov 13 2008, at 01:55)

First of all, let me congratulate you with your strong-willed and resourceful daughter. It must be such a joy to have a child like that!

Secondly, I think it is good to realize that her behavior is part of a normal developmental phase. Many, if not all, children aged two exhibit behaviors like your daughter's and most of these behaviors simply go away as they grow older, even if you don't do anything about it.

Thirdly, I never punish my son. Still, he listens most of the time. I found that the most effective and also most nice way to interact with him is to just be clear about what I do and don't allow.

So, in case of him scratching the table (for instance), I tell him "No, don't scratch the table because we want to keep it smooth." Next up I suggest something he is allowed to do: "You can cut your bread/hand me the peanut butter/give me a kiss/etc. instead."

In most cases my son subsequently does as he is told (Well, at that moment. He tries again the day after for some time). If he does not, I repeat my request and then make it impossible for him to do the scratching (taking away the thing he scratches with), not as a way to punish him but simply to protect the table. If my son then tells me he won't do it again, he can have the item back and we are done.

In case of throwing, it is much the same. I tell him not to and why, make him a suggestions of a suitable alternative and if that does not help I repeat and take away the things he is throwing with until he tells me he won't do it anymore.

The reason I chose this approach is that I hate to have to punish more severely the older they get. Also, I vividly remember the age at which I myself decided that I did not care about punishments however severe they got. I just went my own way.

I hope this comment is helpful to you and please don't mind any mistakes. My native tongue is not English.


From: Jacek (Nov 13 2008, at 02:10)

This thread makes me wonder: when will your children (and yours and yours...) be old enough to use the internet and find (or stumble upon) and read these comments? Will they care about the content?

Just something that may be worth a thought. 8-)


From: hawkse (Nov 13 2008, at 03:23)

Absolutely agree with Stuart - it must be a female thing.

My two year old daugher is completely immune to timeouts or any level of threat whereas my now five year old son responded well.

Solution? Let me know if you find one!


From: Paul Morriss (Nov 13 2008, at 03:26)

Sometimes I wish that when they're older they are able to remember things back to this age and articulate them.

Maybe she just appreciates a bit of peace and quiet to let her meal digest?


From: Janne (Nov 13 2008, at 05:29)

She's got you fooled, hasn't she? Sounds to me like she is training you not to give her that punishment, or give punishments at all. If she starts crying disconsolately whenever you try to give here candy you'll know for sure.


From: Lisa Beachler (Nov 13 2008, at 06:22)

I'm very old school on this and I believe and know that there is a difference between a spanking and a beating, now I know several people stopped reading this now, but for those of you who read on. A wooden spoon with a tap to the butt will NOT hurt your child but it will get her attention.

When we raise a generation of children on "time out" when real punishment happens for something done wrong, they can't handle it even as adults, we see this even today in the way people react if fired, laid off, confronted on something they do wrong.

I think it's funny your daughter is amused with "time-out" and I think on a small percentage of children it will work, but on the leaders, the strong willed, time out is nothing more then a challenge of their wills.

I also found it funny your next example of punishment is cat of nine tails....Our world has done a great job of going from tme out to abuse, and it's just not the case. Those that abuse will abuse, no matter what is said of how to punish.

If you raise a strong willed child correctly, there is NOTHING this world can throw at her/him that they will choose to do unless they want to. It's a challenge for sure, but well worth it in the end!


From: Craig Stuntz (Nov 13 2008, at 06:49)

When my daughter was very young, we quickly realized that she was unlikely to become any less demanding. The compromise at which we arrived was to insist that she express her demands politely. I told her that I would only "hear" polite questions, and that if she screamed, we would end up discussing the fact that she was screaming, rather than whatever it was that she wanted. She pretty quickly figured out that a "Please" and "Thank you" was far more effective at getting her way than shouting, and it makes things much, much more comfortable for us, too.


From: Seth Gordon (Nov 13 2008, at 06:50)

I have three boys, age 6, 4, and 2, and we have a few discipline issues of our own that we are working on, and more that we would be working on if we weren't so tired at the end of the day that all we have the energy to do is react. So I speak from a certain amount of experience but I don't want anyone to think that I'm Superdad. With those caveats:

(1) The question you need to be asking is not "how do we punish her for misbehaving at the dinner table?" but "how do we reward her for behaving properly at the dinner table?" (and "how do we define "properly" in a way that doesn't make the reward seem impossibly out of reach for her?")

(2) I've read about using rehearsals to practice good behavior, i.e., once you've decided on the proper goals and reward schedule, you have a few minutes of "pretend dinner" and if the girl does what's expected of her she gets the same reward she would get for behaving that way at real dinner. I haven't tried this yet myself but the theory seems sound.

(3) Time-outs, as originally conceived, were not supposed to be per se punishments; the idea was that when a child is having a tantrum, the time-out removes the child from whatever stimulus was causing the tantrum and gives him or her a chance to cool off. So it's not surprising that a lot of parents who use time-outs as punishment find that they don't work so well.

(4) Two-year-olds, thank God, eventually become three-year-olds (if their parents don't throw them out the window first). The maturation does not necessarily improve their behavior all by itself but I think it does make them a little easier to negotiate with.


From: len (Nov 13 2008, at 06:54)

Ok, a bit of sexist parenting:

Yes, IME, it is a girl thing and time out isn't as effective because unlike boys who can't tolerate being restrained from choices of locations, girls will happily sit in their rooms or wherever they have to be and go adventuring in their heads. In fact, they prefer it. Boys emulate. Girls look for ways to be different.

The trick with girls is they are very social. It is tough to do, but staying calm and giving them no social interaction is the better strategy. They have to feel no one is paying attention because you are looking the other way very purposefully. You still need to put them in time-out and it's ok if they have a book but nothing else that let's them interact.

Don't fall into the dominance trap as if it were about your roles as Mom and Dad, we are the bosses, etc. They don't care because they already know they have your affection for life. Make it about interaction.

Good luck. The older they get, the more sources of attention they have and you will become the mussy stuffed animals in the corner of the room that they seldom play with but will fight a pack of wild dogs to keep.


From: Mark (Nov 13 2008, at 07:46)

You've been through all this before, so you certainly know by now that escalation of threats/punishments doesn't work (for long) and is ultimately counterproductive. We went through a patch when our oldest turned 4 where he was acting out in daycare every day -- to the point of getting sent home repeatedly -- and being sullen and intentionally disruptive once he got home. We escalated punishments waaaay past the point of productiveness; nothing worked. Eventually we figured out that he was acting out because his little brother (22 months younger) had reached the age that they could do stuff together, but what the older one really wanted was something he could do by himself (or at least not with his younger brother). We got him into swimming lessons -- which his little brother was too young for -- and after a rocky start it's made a huge difference.

Don't know how much help that anecdote will be in your current situation, but the basic idea is that you need to find the real cause of her behavior and work on solving that. Escalating punishments just buries the problem deeper.


From: Rob (Nov 13 2008, at 08:29)

You complain about your kid, and gosh but everybody and their dog is full of advice! The first rule of parenting is that there ain't no rules for how to do it right, every kid is different. The second rule of parenting is that there ain't no rules for how to do it right.

Kids just aren't systems, there isn't a magical input that will reliably get you the output you desire. Kind of like trying to print with Vista.

The good news is that there is a considerable amount of research that shows difficult 2 year olds have a strong tendency to be difficult teens. Wasn't so true for my kids, the contrary really, so one can hope. But brace yourself.


From: Matt (Nov 13 2008, at 10:06)

Have you considered duct tape? :-)


From: Claus (Nov 13 2008, at 10:25)

When children "melt down" they are angry or sad. In both cases it's nothing they really want. It just came to them like sadness and anger comes to adults as well. They always have a reason to be in that state of mind, even if that reason is not immediately obvious or reasonable for us.

So, why should parents punish a child for having feelings of anger or sadness? Wouldn't we like to scream sometimes if something really awful happens to us? And what if someone would step up and punish is us for that reaction?

If repeatedly done, children learn that feeling sad is something bad. They learn their parents no longer love them if they become sad. This is fatal in the long term. It damages their otherwise positive self-image. Now they have two problems. Then they learn to suppress their feelings because the last thing children want is parents who don't love them.

Of course, that doesn't mean to allow them throwing stuff around, hurting others or destroying things. But Juno above already did a great job in describing how to deal with those situations.

Let children know they're OK, even if angry, sad, mad, .... it's natural. But have a strong opinion on what you don't like: Throwing, scratching, hurting me/others ...

If you make this distinction clear, there is no longer need for punishment.

Worked for me and my two kids.


The reflex of punishment is something we often do because not because we believe in it but because *our* parents did it that way. In high-stress situations, people are more prone to simple, mechanized behaviour that we learned long ago from our beloved ones.


From: Meint Post (Nov 13 2008, at 12:46)

You might want to read this: http://www.wagele.com/EnneagramParent.html

Its about understaning your childs personality type and what you can do to accomodate him/her with difficult tasks like eating


From: Evan Lenz (Nov 13 2008, at 14:23)

Our sons have grown since I last saw yours on the XML Excursion! (I think mine was youngest and yours second-youngest on board.) Now we both have 2 1/2 year olds too (mine's a boy). I also have a five-year-old daughter. The girl seems to have much bigger, more unpredictable emotions--and much more mysterious, at least to me. :-)

I personally resonate most with Claus's comments above because of his attention on what's going on for your child beyond her behavior. When people "act up", there's a corresponding internal experience that we as parents can choose to pay attention to and engage, or to disregard. Unfortunately, traditional parenting opts for disregard and tends to focus exclusively on behavioral manipulation--using rewards or punishments to coerce people into behaving the way we want them to. The sole criterion for success is: "How did my child then behave?" Scores of parenting books are devoted to relaying the best coercion techniques, often completely ignoring the internal consequences and opportunity cost of a closer, understanding connection with your child. Alfie Kohn has well expressed this negative side of it.

On the positive side, it helps me to remember that my child is not me, but is a separate human being. (This seems obvious, but I'm amazed at how often I get caught in the indignation trap where I feel as responsible for my child's actions as I do for my own.)

Another thing that helps for me is to be clear on when I'm using pure coercion. I personally try to avoid this and instead try to connect authentically and express whatever I can to help my child through whatever they're going through. But I give myself permission to fail on occasion.

Coercion tends to be unconscious and habitual (we don't see what costs we're incurring), so I want to be more aware of what I'm doing in the situations where I resort to it. This is an ongoing process.

Finally, one person who has really helped shift my thinking on this is Scott Noelle, through his daily (very short) emails (called "The Daily Groove"). They have opened my mind to the possibility of new levels of enjoyment in parenting.


From: Bob Haugen (Nov 13 2008, at 14:56)

I'm curious. What is wrong with her going to the timeout corner and burbling happily? Does it get her out of the tantrum?


From: Tony Fisk (Nov 13 2008, at 20:45)

This is what comes of reading them bedtime stories like 'The Odyssey', and 'A Force More Powerful'!

Len's analysis sounds about right wrt our own 6yo daughter. The problem these old, mussy toys have half the time is getting her attention in the first place ... walking away can be an effective tactic.

The old 'one... two... ' usually gets them to heel before the never-to -be-uttered 'THREE' is reached (which is probably just as well)

2yo *IS* strong willed!


From: Ryan (Nov 16 2008, at 15:09)

When I did this kind of thing, my parents spanked me. I was consistently disciplined on first offense; I did not get repeat warnings. I very quickly learned to behave and I learned how to determine what actions were right and wrong, not just how to manipulate people or circumstances to avoid punishment. It was not abusive; it was always very loving and my parents always explained why I was being punished. By the time I was 10 or so I never received discipline of any kind. I had a fantastic relationship with my parents and it continues to this day (I'm 25, married and have a daughter of my own on the way).

I don't mean to criticize anyone else's methods or beliefs; I'm just letting you know your children won't hate you if you do decide to use corporal punishment. It isn't abuse as long as you treat it patiently as discipline and you also reward good behaviors.


From: len (Nov 17 2008, at 06:30)

Not spanking is usually a bad idea. Until they really value social rewards, it is the sure way to get the point into the dendrites. IOW, spanking works. The usual admonitions:

1. Like all negative reinforcement, it is the punishment of last resort when a behavior must be extinguished or immediate dangers follow surely. A child who runs into the street to taunt Mom is an example.

2. Try with all your might never to do this in anger. One, you lose control, and two, they remember the face longer than the spanking. So will you.

3. Do not slap a child. Just don't.

4. Never spank in public places. This one is hard because children get a lot of attention acting out for strangers. You will be visited by the smug-never-had-a-child-never-will-know-betters. If you feel the urge to deck *them*, that's normal but expensive. Satisfying though.

5. There are crueler punishments than spanking. Dousing their favorite teddy-bear with gasoline and lighting it is one. I'v never done that, but as threats go, they notice. Hold on to that one until they are about seven or eight.

The most effective control is purposeful withdrawal of attention while still maintaining absolute control over their physical placement and resources. Child rearing is the ultimate tit-for-tat game.

But until they are two years old, spoil them rotten with all the hugs and kisses you can lavish. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is the slippery slope to bad behavior. Quite the opposite; it lights up a mammal brain as nothing else can and permanently imprints it with care. Do remember, they are only babies for a very short time. It also imprints your brain and readies you for the terrible 22s when you will have exactly zero control.

BTW: a parent has a limited span of control in several dimensions. You need social environments that provide protection but space. Even if you aren't a church kind of person, you will discover this is what they do well particularly in the teen years when you need all the help you can get. The 'it takes a village' meme ain't wrong.


From: whimsy (Dec 01 2008, at 16:09)

A great book on the subject - quick to read, lifetime to master: http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Discipline-Preschoolers-Years-Raising-Responsible/dp/0307341607/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228176407&sr=8-3

"Love and Logic" classes offer a similar view that has worked really well in many families I interact with... best! -J.


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