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As long as there have been children, there have been parents seeking effective discipline methods. Thankfully, the go-to methods have largely evolved from corporal punishment to the more gentle, thoughtful instructions for the child to “go to time-out.” So, why is it that parents with the best of intentions can still find themselves melting down in the wake of a time-out?


My experience working with Healthy Families America has shown me that time-outs can make matters worse for everyone if handled poorly. But with some simple adjustments, they can serve their purposes—leading to happier kids and parents.

So, next time you find yourself in a battle over time-out, consider this process.

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1. Calm first

It may sound counterintuitive to offer a child who is grabbing a toy or even taking a whack at another child a caring touch in response, but it’s important. The behavior the child is exhibiting is not acceptable—but it is also not calculated or malicious. Rather, grabbing or hitting is sometimes the only tool the child has at hand to express how upset they are about something already.

Putting that already unhappy and distressed child in time-out before they have calmed down after the initial upset may only make them more confused and angry. In other words, your child may end up in full-on survival mode, totally unable to access the parts of the brain that can reason—and completely unable to process any “use your words not your hands” lessons you are trying to impart.

After the child is calm, you can take him or her aside and offer that lesson, not as punitive but rather as a way to help them understand the consequences of their behavior.

2. Offer a vocabulary lesson in the process

College essays and crossword puzzles notwithstanding, there are some more basic reasons why young children need vocabulary lessons from an early age. Having words to attach to the many new feelings they are having will help them learn to sort out those feelings and, down the line, to attach them to appropriate responses.

So, start the conversation early: “I know that was very frustrating when you wanted that truck and you couldn’t have it” or “I see you are very disappointed that your block tower fell down.”

Big words, yes. But for children, these are very big feelings. Giving them language validates those feelings. It helps them to understand them and to react appropriately as they grow.

3. Don’t mistake distraction for success

Children are always looking for ways to learn and grow. I have seen a 2-year-old in time-out spend a lovely couple of minutes tying her shoelaces to the chair. Sure, she stopped crying or hitting, or whatever behavior landed her there in the first place—but she did not learn anything about controlling her behavior from the exercise. (Although she may have learned some neat lessons about shoelaces.) Who really believes that a 2-year-old is “thinking about” their misbehavior in their two minutes of fame?

A successful time-out doesn’t end with your toddler telling you what went wrong and what she could do better because she thought about it. Rather, it ends with a calmer little one you can talk to about appropriate and healthy ways to express her emotions. By being present when your toddler is most stressed will also create a sense of trust that you will there for her whenever she is stressed throughout multiple stages of growing up, including those difficult teenage years.

4. Set the stage for the future

The tricky part of time-out with young children is that sometimes it looks as if it is really doing the trick. The child stops crying and appears calm and ready to absorb a lesson like “use your words, not your hands.” Sadly, the real lesson that child is absorbing is that “when I need you most, you are going to put me in a chair by myself.” That makes it all the less likely that child will turn to you for help and support next time he or she is feeling traumatized, afraid, in need of help calming down and dealing with a situation.

Without your consistent help, that child will continue to struggle to learn how to “regulate,” that is, to calm the storm of emotions and react appropriately to any situation. Helping your child learn to regulate and calm down doesn’t happen in isolation, yet it does last for a lifetime. Helping your child develop the capacity for self-calming by providing him with words to describe emotions (“If you can name it, you can tame it”), letting him know you are present and available, that you understand his strong feelings—yet do not approve of the particular behavior is the greatest gift a parent can give. Your child will know that they can always come to you, no matter what.

5. If necessary, consider giving yourself a time-out instead

Take a moment when the child is regulated, calm and busy to think about your own reaction. Did your fists clench for a second there? Did you grab that toy away from the child just a little more forcefully than you should have? In the wild whirlwind that is every single moment of parenting a young child, we adults often need a little help regulating ourselves.

If possible, walk away and spend a few minutes by yourself. If you can’t, try to get the child interested in something else for a few minutes while you calm your breathing and try to assess what is really going on with you and how—maybe not this minute, maybe not today, but soon—you can get the help you need.

Remember, if in the heat of the moment you forget and find yourself in another battle over time-out, it’s ok. Take a deep breath. You and your little one are learning together.

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Jessica Simpson's life seems perfect. She has three beautiful kids, a wildly successful career, a seemingly solid marriage...she has it all, at least as far as we can see. But recent revelations prove that no one really knows what anyone else is secretly dealing with—and Jessica, by her own admission, has been struggling with alcohol issues.

The singer-turned-business-woman recently sat down with TODAY's Hoda Kotb, and it will air on NBC's TODAY Wednesday morning.

"I had started a spiral and I couldn't catch up with myself…and that was with alcohol," Jessica explained. "I would say it openly to everyone. 'I know. I know, I'll stop soon. I'll cut back'," Jessica continued when asked if she realized things were getting out of control. "For me to cut back, like I'm an all or nothing girl, and so I didn't know it was a problem until it was...I completely didn't recognize myself…I always had a glitter cup. It was always filled to the rim with alcohol."

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She's hardly alone. The rise of #winemom phenomenon is well documented and many parents struggle with substance abuse problems. But Simpson's story proves there is a way to get your life back.

Simpson quit drinking in 2017 after she found herself unable to get her kids ready for a Halloween party. She says she'd started drinking before 7:30 in the morning, before accompanying her husband, Eric Johnson, to a school assembly for their oldest daughter. Later that night she was unable to get her kids dressed in their Halloween costumes. The next morning she was so ashamed. Feeling like she had failed her kids she slept until they left the house, then got up and drank some more.

That episode was her tipping point. She quit drinking (as did her husband, Eric Johnson, who supports her in her sobriety.)



As parents, we know how overwhelming the demands can be...and how easy it is to sink into habits that don't ultimately serve us well. For Jessica, the way to heal was to sever her relationship with alcohol.

"I had to give [drinking] up," Jessica said. "I'm not going to miss another day. I'm not going to miss another Halloween. I'm not going to miss another Christmas. I'm going to be present."

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Babies come with a lot of stuff. And when you're out and about, a roomy, comfy diaper bag is the place for everything you need to be prepared for whatever the day throws your way. But is a cute, trendy diaper bag that doesn't scream, well... DIAPER BAG, too much to ask? It's not, mamas.

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Freshly Picked City Pack

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Frustrations and emotions were at an all time high for both us. I was worried that my lack of patience would get the best of me, leaving her feeling let down and frustrated with me on her new journey of becoming a “big girl." And selfishly, I was tired of washing wet underwear. For her part, my daughter was tired of being asked for the hundredth time if she needed to use the potty.

We both were feeling a little defeated in this new adventure.

I have found too often as a mother that I expect my child to respond new things, like to potty training, as fast and as close to the last blog post, book or opinion I heard or read. What I have learned is that no two children are alike and the moment I release my expectations for where mine should or should not be, we are both brought back to peace and patience.

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So maybe a break was all we needed to start fresh the next day. We headed to our favorite spot by the lake and had a picnic. My daughter munched on popcorn and chatted away about the weather and pinecones, and listened for the sounds of helicopters—which you hear quite often living on an aviation military base.

Sometimes in the daily struggles of motherhood I have noticed that I can forget who I am and the strength we possess as mothers. It may not come easily at first, but I grow with each new day. Even potty training—this mundane human activity that is emotional and (quite literally) messy, teaches me much about the meaning and purpose of motherhood.

Potty training has taught me a huge lesson on patience. Patience to be present, to pay attention to what is right in front of me. To be encouraging, to not rush the process, to not place expectations on timing or play the comparison game we often play as mothers.

Patience is needed in every area of parenting and potty training is just one way where we can see as parents where our patience is wearing thin.

I have found that it's when I come from a place of patience and presence that I can then glean wisdom from those messy, mundane, time-consuming tasks of potty training, and find that the waiting, sitting and hours of time spent in the bathroom gives me an opportunity to be present in my child's world.

Whether it be the grocery line, a traffic jam, or cleaning up wet bedding, I learn the art and joy in the small and big moments in motherhood. Giving our children space to fail and try it again as many times as it takes encourages them that they too can cultivate the gift of patience in there own tiny lives.

My daughter speaks to me everyday, inviting growth that sometimes feels really hard and frustrating, she provokes patience to be felt and sensed through every minute of the day. And for this I am grateful. Because to truly live and be present in my child's world means “I learn from her, and she learns from me." Even in potty training.

Our children have so much to offer to who we are as individuals and they have so much to teach us. In fact, I have come to live for these exhausting, beautiful, and downright messy moments in time. When I push myself to embrace them, rather than just find them frustrating, I stretch and grow and evolve. I become the mother I hope to be.

And to you mama, whether in the midst of sleepless newborn nights or toddler tornados or the midst of potty training, may you find strength as a mother, as a wife, and as a person to let go of any expectations or judgements you place upon yourself.

May love and gratitude fill our hearts and peace be with all of us on the journey that motherhood is.

Life
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