The Trouble with Time Out

Before I begin, please understand that I believe time out is a major improvement over spanking and physical punishment. There's much to celebrate when a culture stops intentionally inflicting pain upon its children. And I while I am incredibly grateful for that shift, I think we can do even better.

I realize I might take some heat for writing this, because I'm critiquing a technique that many parents have been taught to use as their primary disciplinary intervention. I'm okay with heat. In my own life and work, I strive to periodically re-evaluate my strategies and take stock of their effectiveness. My parenting advice has evolved over the years since I started doing this work, and I hope it continues to do so for many years to come. My intention here is to inspire you to take a closer look at whether this technique is truly working for you and your child.

If you have already done your own evaluation and feel confident that it is, that's great! No need to keep reading.

Nothing we do makes a dent in these troubling behaviors of our three year old

Q: Here are some of the troubling behaviors of our three year old son: 

- head butts walls and anything hard
- eats weird things like fluff and string
- steals lighters and sets fires in his room
- turns on all the stove burners and burns food to make thick black smoke
- sneaks and hides scissors to cut his clothes

- always speaks about himself in third person, never says I or Me

We have tried time outs. We don't believe in smacking or spanking. We have taken away toys he likes and he doesn't care. 

We are young parents and people we talk to think we cannot cope but this is wrong! He can be a loving and caring child but when he has "that look in his eyes" we feel like we are talking to a brick wall.

We have done a lot of research but nothing helps. Any ideas are welcome!
 
A: Bless your hearts - it sounds like you are doing your very best to do right by your son, and he's lucky that you are so dedicated to parenting him well. And good for you for not resorting to smacking him.

I think you are right that these behaviors have nothing to do with being young parents or not being able to handle him -- what you describe does seem outside the typical range of developmentally appropriate behaviors for kids his age, and you deserve every possible bit of support to help you work with him.