Mothering my first son seemed nearly an impossible task requiring my never-ending attention, loving corrections and my ongoing vigilance to make sure I was teaching him the “right” way. It was difficult, but seemed to work for the two of us. When he turned 4 my twins were born and life at our house changed. Now he had a brother AND a sister… and I had the dynamics of three beautiful but highly individual energetic children at home with me. I tried my best to teach my children right from wrong, how to treat others kindly, and how to behave nicely in our family and in the world. But sometimes (sometimes daily) one or more of my children would forget, or have a meltdown, or demand they get their way… and all my mothering strategies would stop working.
The 3-second time-out was not something I read about in a parenting book, a strategy I learned from one of the many stay-at-home mothers or fathers I knew, or “good advice” from my own mom. It was born out of my frustration and a sign of my children’s genuine good natures. I can tell you in a general way how the 3-second time-out started in our home, but can’t give you many specifics. All I remember clearly about that day today is lots and lots of laughter!
My oldest son was 7 and the twins were 3 years old. I remember my 3 year old son was NOT happy. He had been fussing about something not being right, wanting something he didn’t have, somebody not helping him…. I don’t remember exactly what he was grumbling about, but he wouldn’t let it go and he would NOT stop. He was making us all unhappy, grouchy and irritable. As emotions escalated in our house I suddenly heard these words come out of my mouth,
“Go sit on the steps and count to 3.”
Well, that did it. All three children stopped fussing, looked at me and burst out laughing! My oldest son asked me “Really, he only has to sit for 3 seconds?”
YES! The answer to my son’s question is yes.
The answer to “Does it work?” is also yes.
Looking back this strategy worked so well for us because it helped my out-of-control child “shift” his gears by walking across the house, sitting down, counting to 3, then walking back to rejoin us. It also gave the rest of us (me especially) a very needed moment to shift to a calmer happier place. In fact, it usually left everyone smiling and giggling if not outright laughing almost every time.
As my children grew we continued to use the 3-second time-out. It worked especially well to curb first the “potty talk”, then later the “sounds like a swear word but it isn’t” words – followed by a request (from me) for the child to return with a new more appropriate word. Sometimes they would even give each other a 3-second time-out. Not that they complied, but the message was delivered and the mood usually lightened.
It worked when my kids were tweens and still works now that they are all teens…. but probably only because the idea of sitting on the steps and counting to 3 is still such a crazy silly idea that it makes my kids pause, smile and shift to a happy place.