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Our son is almost 3 years old and he's been getting worse about talking back and not obeying our directions (such as "put on your shoes" or "pick up your toys"). We're thinking about implementing John Rosemond's ticket system where he gets 5 tickets per day and after he loses them all for 5 misbehaviors, he is sent to his room for the rest of his day. The thing we're not sure about is whether is this an appropriate length punishment for an almost 3-year-old.

So my question is: Is an entire day too long for a 3-year-old to be sent to his room? If so, what is a more appropriate length of time?

We were leaning towards starting with a 1 hour room punishment after losing 5 tickets. And after that time is up, he gets 3 tickets back. Subsequent loss of all tickets would result in perhaps a 2 hour timeout. This is starting to seem a little too complicated, however. Thoughts?

Right now he gets a 1-5 minute sit-down time-out for these types of misbehaviors, but he rarely seems to care at all. Sometimes he even asks for a time-out in lieu of doing what he's told.

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1 minute timeout per year of life - so three minutes for a three-year-old - is a rule -of-thumb that's commonly used. Isolation for a whole day is way excessive. – A E Jan 15 '15 at 10:43
up vote 13 down vote accepted

In my experience, the most effective time limit at that age is until you're ready. If the discipline is for refusing to pick up his toys, the consequence is time out "until you're ready to pick up your toys." Then you ask in 3-minute intervals if he is ready to do it or not. This ties the consequence directly to the desired behavior, and lets the child choose the severity.

The first few times, it might take a long time, like an hour or more, but they will eventually catch on that the effort isn't worth it. Sometimes, we'll add another consequence at every interval, like another toy being confiscated.

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I actually like this a lot. I might steal it and try it on my 5-year-old :-D – Meg Coates Apr 19 '13 at 1:01
+1 for until your ready. The purpose of the discipline is to give them cool off time, and to teach the kid a life lesson. Make sure they've understood why they've been sent to their room. Remember they have their own internal dialog and will be thinking all sort of dark thoughts. You have to clear all of that up before it gets internalised. Make sure they can tell you why they were sent off. If they won't talk, give them another few minutes to cool off. – superluminary Apr 22 '13 at 16:51

Sending an almost 3-year-old to their room for, potentially, all day seems a bit excessive. I mean, an almost 3-year-old could conceivably lose all five tickets before noon, and by the end of the day he probably isn't going to even remember why he was sent to his room to begin with.

But I do agree that your modified plan starts getting a little complicated. Perhaps instead of waiting to send him to his room once all his tickets are gone, send him to his room every time he loses a ticket. Granted, this turns the ticket system into just another time-out, but punishments for 3-year-olds need to be immediate because they need to connect the offending action with the punishment--whether that punishment is natural or contrived is entirely up to you. I'm concerned that a young 3 isn't going to be able to associate losing the ticket to performing the undesired behavior. I mean, losing a ticket isn't really a punishment. The punishment is being sent to his room for the remainder of the day, but that might not occur until several hours after the first ticket is lost. This type of punishment would work fine for my 5-year-old, but my daughter would be more or less clueless.

This is what older 2's/3-year-olds do. Whoever made up that ridiculous saying "the terrible twos" obviously never dealt with a 3-year-old. Three year olds are testing boundaries and that is NORMAL--a lot of it is just a power struggle. And sometimes it seems that no punishment is ever deterrent enough for them. My daughter will be 3 in July and sometimes it seems like time-outs do absolutely nothing for her. Sometimes we have success offering them options (Would you rather clean up your trains first or take out the recycling first? They are aware that both tasks have to be completed, but they get to choose which one they do first. I don't personally care which task gets completed first as long as they both get done.). This doesn't mean that we never have to put our kids in time-out or anything like that, but if you over-use time-out it becomes meaningless. Pick your battles.

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The purpose of a timeout is to deny a child your attention, since this is what he wants most in the world, and to give him time to settle himself if he is overwrought. The 1-2-3 Magic method suggests 3 minutes for a 3-year-old or until the tantrum subsides, whichever is longer. You should not respond to any calling out from the other side of the door.

The other thing about discipline is that a child must be able to relate the the disciplinary action directly to the behavior for it to be effective. After a few minutes, that connection is lost, and the 3-year-old child no longer understands why he is confined to his room.

In his book Touchpoints, renowned child expert T. Barry Brazelton, states:

Use a time-out, but for a brief period only. After it’s over, hug him and explain why it was necessary. Ask the child’s advice about what might help next time. Then try it. If it works, give him credit.

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Rule of thumb, 1 min for each year of age. We sit them on the stairs. Then briefly explain and reflect at the end of the period, followed by a hug. We do escalate to removing the very limited pre-teatime TV they sometimes watch. Tickets seems awfully complicated to me.

edit I just saw a previous answer with a reference to our approach. Dare I say it I think I saw that on Supernanny as well at some point.

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Your child isn't even 3? It is inhumane for a human of any age to be disciplined by isolation. This could definately cause developental delays with you child. Children learn by making mistakes, they are supposed to be testing their limits and boundaries. Not everything needs to be met with discipline. Choose your battles but be consistent with the important rules. If they hit or are too upset to listen to you, let them cool down in a safe place but let them know that you are waiting for them to relax so you can talk. It takes time, care and patience but thats what kids need. They need to feel like you are helping them through their whirlwind of new emotions and feelings. By isolating them you are distancing yourself.

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Hi, and welcome to the site. This is a Q&A site that, like all SE sites, considers answers which are substantiated by studies, etc. to be more valuable than opinion. Your answer would be better if your first assertion was supported. Please take the tour and read the help section for guidance on how to use the site. – anongoodnurse Jan 15 '15 at 5:29
This would be a much better answer if it didn't start off by calling the OP inhumane. Advice, even good advice, is rarely heeded when it is introduced with inflammatory language. – Erica Jan 15 '15 at 12:29

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