September 23, 2019

When time-out wasn't working, I knew I had to make a change.

Back when my first child hit her terrible twos almost 17 years ago, I did exactly as my doctor and most of the parenting books suggested—I put her in time out when she was misbehaving. Even today many parenting experts will tell you to put your child in a corner, a “naughty chair,” her bedroom, or even swat her bottom to get her to understand you are the authority.

When that didn’t work, I took away her toys. I removed her from situations which were causing distress and isolated her from me. I was a first-time parent, and a single parent with no support from her father. I had no idea what I was doing. I trusted what my doctor, and the experts, were telling me to do. I felt lost and didn’t know how to be a parent. The more I followed what these experts recommended, the worse my daughter’s behavior became. It didn’t feel right, yet how could all the experts be wrong?

At 2, it was your typical temper tantrum. At 4, it was slamming doors. At 6, she was slamming doors so hard in her anger that she cracked a solid wood door straight down the center. By the time she was eight, our relationship was not what I had wanted it to be. It was only one of contention. By the time her little sister was born when she was nine, my oldest was punching holes in walls, screaming like a wild woman out of control and completely ignoring me.

I knew something had to change. I knew it was me. As a mother, I am the driving force in my child’s life. I have the most awesome job in the world: the job of training my children to become capable, kind and responsible adults—to be a credit to their generation. I did NOT want them to become me. I didn’t like who I was, and it was obvious my oldest didn’t either.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 45 percent of parents still spank their children. That’s despite the fact that research has found corporal punishment, and isolation such as using time-outs, actually leads to slower skill development, anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug abuse. It also contributes to a more distant parent-child relationship later on.

With the baby, I decided I had a second chance to change my parenting. I began to research alternative parenting methods because the typical authoritative parenting dynamic certainly wasn’t working for my oldest child. I came across unconditional parenting, attachment parenting and peaceful parenting. All three of those are founded upon the principle that the parent-child relationship is not one of a hierarchy but one of mutual respect and working together. I figured I had nothing to lose. My relationship with my oldest daughter was already in jeopardy.

What I discovered by changing my parenting perspective is that my child was simply reacting to a feeling of being scared and isolated. As a toddler or young child, they do not know how to handle their emotions. When I removed her from me, the one she trusted to keep her safe, I left her alone with these enormous emotions for which she had no way of understanding. I didn’t model for her how to handle them. All I had done was exclude her and leave her alone. Is it no wonder our tweens/teens isolate when upset? It was irresponsible for me to expect her to know how to handle disappointment, exhaustion or frustration. Instead, I chose to begin to guide them through their emotions, label the feelings and provide for them constructive ways to deal with the emotions in a healthy manner.

It has been an amazing turnaround. My oldest is now 19, and she’s my best friend. We talk about everything. She trusts me with her deepest concerns and seeks me out for comfort and advice. The baby who changed our lives? She is now 10 and has a solid sense of self. She’s never been put in time-out, removed or isolated from me. She is secure in who she is and our relationship. She’s a tween, but we don’t have any of the typical battles brewing. Our communication is open. I know when they are faced with emotions which are too big for them to understand that together we will weather the storm and come out on the other side. What I learned is how you treat them in their toddler years is how they will treat you in their tweens and teens. Isolate them and they will isolate you. It’s what they’ve learned. Be who you want them to be. It’s never too late to change.

Written by Mary Herrington for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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