Our little boy tends to get 3 minutes on the naughty spot when he's done something wrong. After this time one of us tries to explain why he's been naughty spotted and what he should do differently next time. He is then released from the naughty spot and he goes on his merry way ;].

I am concerned that during this explanation he's not listening as he tends to look away while I'm talking. He is usually looking at one of his toys or what his little sister is doing.

My better half is concerned that I am being overly confrontational here. Should I be enforcing this attention/eye contact, or should I wait until he's older?

I am male if that makes a difference to the psychology of the situation.

Any advice gratefully received.

  • Looking away is a normal instinctive sign of submission.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 0:01

8 Answers 8


I usually end the timeout with a short as pleasant as possible conversation where I get the child to acknowledge what they did wrong. I find the eye contact less important than the words being spoken.


Parent: "Do you know why you are in timeout?"
Child: "I hit my sister."
Parent: "Are you suppose to do that?"
Child: "No."
Parent: "Are you going to do that again?"
Child: "No"

If they are a little older, I try to get them to say the words themselves:

Parent: "What are you NOT suppose to do?"
Child: "I'm not suppose to hit my sister."

  • 1
    Sounds like good advice, definitely want to avoid further arguments and get things back on an even keel. I think the eye contact isnt necessary here, but may pull him up when he is paying absolutely no attention ! Thanks for the advice. Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 22:19
  • On many SE sites we ask that users use this format for quotes (the alternative sometimes creates problems.) Please do not roll back. Thanks. Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 15:14

My oldest sons used to do the same thing. Not because they were avoiding the conversation, but because they were (still are) highly distractable.

Regardless of what their reason for distraction, I don't believe you're being "confrontational". I don't think it's inappropriate to expect your child to pay attention and listen to what you have to say, even for a 3 yr old. As long as you don't expect or try to have a protracted conversation and you keep it short and sweet as suggested (simply because he's very young right now), you're laying the groundwork for the rest of his growth and your roles and teacher and student.

In my case, while talking to my kids, after they'd demonstrated per case that they couldn't maintain focus for the 15 sec convo I wanted to have with them, I'd cup my hands around their head at the temple and make a little tunnel just for our eyes then I'd say my piece. Then we'd go back to building mousetraps or carving quartz figurines or repairing the bandsaw.

  • 2
    eye contact and paying attention are not equivalent. Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 0:33
  • For larger people, of course. However, I challenge you to find a 3 yr old or even 7 yr old that they can multitask by facing you talking but thinking of something else. And that's the point of this technique: eliminating distraction and getting the point across . . . /to a 3 yr old./
    – monsto
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 15:25
  • 1
    I taught in a three's classroom for two years. Already found a number of them. Commented Nov 3, 2012 at 13:45

Eye contact during conversation is not an inherently human behavior. Different cultures use or avoid it under differing conditions. It's possible he hasn't learned that "eye contact is what we do when we're talking" yet.

As a middle school teacher, I've run across hundreds of kids who won't look an adult in the eye when they're under emotional stress. I wouldn't read anything into it, and I wouldn't insist on it.


(a) Looking away when someone is scolding you is normal, for both children and adults. When someone is saying something that is embarrassing to us, we tend to look at the floor, etc.

(b) Personally, I think it is unnecessarily cruel to force a child to assist in his own punishment, and teaches subservience rather than good morals and ethics.

From the old-fashioned "bring me my belt!" to the modern "stand on the corner holding this sign that says 'I am a liar'", I think this adds an unnecessary dimension to a punishment. Demanding that someone help you punish him just seems cruel to me.

What if the child refuses to help punish himself? Is there another punishment for failing to help in the punishment? What if he doesn't help with that? You can create a cycle of punishment where the punishment is for something far removed from the original offense. Like in this case, if you say, "Look at me while I scold you!" What if he doesn't? Then what? Will you have some additional punishment for failing to look at you? What if he doesn't look at you while you scold him for not looking at you?

This puts the child in control instead of you. He can turn a confrontation into a contest of wills. If you require his co-operation to punish him, then if he refuses to co-operate, he thwarts the punishment. Meanwhile you become more and more frustrated because your efforts at punishment are not effective.

Perhaps more philosophically, it shifts the issue from the actual offense to obedience to authority. When my children were growing up, I wanted to teach them that, for example, stealing and unprovoked assault are wrong, not that disobeying authority is wrong. There's a fine line there, I guess, as all rules imply some authority, but I didn't want to be teaching my children, "You must do this because I say so" but "You must do this because it is right." Demanding a child assist in his own punishment just seems to me to be saying, "You must meekly obey all orders" rather than "You must learn what is right."

When my kids were growing up, I never demanded that they help or co-operate in any punishment. I didn't tell them, "You are not allowed to play with that toy". I took the toy and put it someplace where they couldn't get it. On the rare occasions where I spanked a child, I didn't demand they come to me. I chased them if necessary. Etc.

  • 1
    Thank you for this, your first post! Your honesty made me smile, and it's hard to refute your wisdom. +1 from me. ') Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 15:03

I've noticed something missing from the procedure:

We do this:

  • [child misbehaves]
  • We don't do X. Please stop.
  • [child misbehaves]
  • We don't do X. Please stop. If you don't, you will get a time out (TO)
  • [child misbehaves]
  • You have done X. Now you will have TO.
  • [TO, during which there is no play/interaction at all]

At the end of TO:

  • Do you know why you are on TO?
  • [ I did X ]
  • Do you have something you want to say?
  • [ Sorry for doing X, dad/mom ]
  • IMPORTANT: OK, <let off step>. I love you. <hug>

That last step is important to let them know that they're not in trouble anymore and everything is OK again once they do the TO. I find they go back to being their happy selves after that.

  • +1 - notice, the parent is hardly speaking in this procedure AT ALL!!! Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 0:33
  • Of course, there is the case where the kid doesn't care about TO, or is perfectly willing to do (whatever) knowing the consequences will include a TO ... personal experience as that kid.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:35

Actually talking DURING discipline is usually counterproductive. Both of you are probably upset and for little ones they usually don't really hear you anyway. I usually use a time out with these words. "I am really frustrated about the choices you are making so we are going to have a time out until we are both ready to talk about it" She was then able to come back to me and we could have a discussion. If I was still feeling angry enough that I knew I couldn't listen to her either then I'd tell her I wasn't ready yet, but I'd try to be soon.

Either way, Alice knew that when we did talk she needed to have an honest apology where she told me what she had done wrong (rather than the other way around) and had an idea about what she might do differently next time, or that she was coming to me because she was confused and honestly wanted to talk about how to make it better. Sometimes it takes an hour before she is ready to do this and sometimes 30 seconds. I have never set a timer for her because then instead of thinking about a solution to her behavior she's just thinking about when time will be up and she can leave her chair.

On the eye contact note, if Alice really had made a wrong decision I expected her not look at me (not that I ever told her this). It is an indication of a feeling of shame. Kind of like a dog tucking its tale between its legs. He is actually showing you that you are the boss and he knows it and he is feeling bad (whether he is feeling bad about the action that got him the time out or just feeling bad about the time out is anyone's guess, but he is feeling bad). I'd let the eye contact thing go personally.


You could also a try an approach to time outs where you invite the child to consider cooling down (if they are angry, frustrated, hyper, etc). They come out when they decide they are ready and together you can brainstorm solutions to the problem. (ie was somebody hurt and could use an apology, etc).

This teaches the child to notice when they are upset (a skill many older children have not learned!) and to take space to cool down (they can play music, read, whatever helps them), and then to actually come back to the problem and make a repair.

This is important because the purpose of discipline is to teach, not hurt, a child. Putting a child in timeout doesn't really send home any lessons other than when you are bigger you can boss smaller people around. And, talking during this process just makes you sound like the teacher in classic chlidren's cartoons (wah wah wah). This also means that if the child is not emotional beyond the point of functioning, then a time out isn't actually helpful - the purpose is for them to calm themselves. When they are not overly emotional then go straight to "Whoops, in this family we are helpful not hurtful, how can you repair this mistake?". Let them brainstorm and then pick something they can do.

I would rather help my child become better at self-reflection and self-regulation, understanding that mistakes are okay, and making repairs is necessary and genuine (ie not forced). Hopefully you can see how these skills will directly apply to the playground later (and eventually the workplace and beyond!).

Connected, genuine, respectful relationships with children is my best medicine for building children that are connected, genuine and respectful.

  • At a time separate from any incidents, you could brainstorm what this kind of time-out space looks like. Although, the phrase 'time out' is so loaded I don't use it. I use cool down space. Like, "what kinds of things would help you feel relaxed?" "What if you had a place you could go when you were upset to calm down?" I can't tell you enough how powerful these skills are for when he starts school! You want him to learn to make decisions even when you (or other adults) are not there to control him. Isn't that the general goal of parenthood overall? Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 2:17

Not paying attention when someone is talking to them can be addressed at age 3.

We do it by reminding him of what he is supposed to be doing when someone is talking (i.e. standing straight, hands by sides, looking at person).

This is not specifically a problem to the after timeout talk, so can be worked on at any time.

Definitely it is easier to get this attention when you lower yourself to eye level with the child, so try sitting down and have him standing in front of you and see if it is easier.

But don't expect magic, my 5 year old still acts as if his head is completely empty at times and it can be a bit frustrating.

  • 5
    Not looking and not paying attention are not the same thing. Teaching a kid that in our society it is considered more respectful to make eye contact in general while conversing is one thing, but I wish people would stop equating looking and listening as the same thing for the sake of our kids that honestly can't maintain eye contact for long periods of time (especailly while being bawled out) Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 0:31

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