My daughters are clearly pushing the boundaries lately. They are trying to find out what is possible. I am really looking into ways to setting the boundaries. A friend recently suggested creating a punishment corner, but our daughters seem to enjoy this corner.

Do you have any alternative ideas? It goes beyond saying that slapping is out of the question!

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    How old are your daughters? What are some examples? Mar 29, 2011 at 22:57
  • It depends. Some kids you look cross eyed at them and they break down and will never do (whatever) again. Others, like myself as a child, will do what they want regardless of the consequences (including spanking). My mother says she stopped worrying about when I'd get home when her arm got tired. FYI she tried corners and all the "alternatives" too, but I was a low maintenance child. I would be put in a corner and then refuse to come out for several hours because I was enjoying something in my own imagination.
    – pojo-guy
    Oct 4, 2017 at 3:36

8 Answers 8


Our kids push boundaries, alot! My husband and I have tried everything for punishment and have settled on this:

bad behavior = corner...immediately

Simple rules and simple fast consequences help us be consistent.

It starts with 1 min and increases by another minute if: they refuse, they don't stand still, they look around, they talk, they anything. If another child talks to them or ridicules them for getting time, they get the same as soon as the first person is done.

It is quick. It only takes once or twice spending 10mins when it could have been 1min before they comply. And, sometimes I give myself time-outs too. I'm not perfect and it models that the rules apply to everyone.

The hard part is determining what bad behavior will be punished. For us, it is anything they know they aren't supposed to do. This relates to the other posts about the escalating scale. As soon as they know, there are no more warnings. For example, when they are told not to touch something, and they do - corner. Hit someone in anger - corner.

Equally important is what happens afterwards. "Why did you get a time-out?" Kids are smart. If they can't answer, more time in the corner to think about it can help. This usually isn't necessary and we try to give prompts by asking leading questions about what was happening, how the situation evolved. Once the transgression is understood, the person has to come up with a way to make it better: try to mend the relationship by apologizing and fixing anything that was maliciously broken, making more cookies because they ate their brother's, that sort of thing. We really try to use logical consequences and avoid punishment.

  • 4
    I've heard this explained in such way that it's stressed that the parent should first warn the child, and always clearly state the reason the child is being put to a time-out. Just clarifying that the main thing seems to be that the child understands why the time-out happens. And of course as you say, consistency is very important. Jun 6, 2011 at 19:20
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    True, understanding the why behind cause and effect is eventually important. When I sought help from a relative who works with autistic children, they recommended that we deliver the consequence immediately without explanation. Talking about it first made a larger gap between cause and effect. We don't give warnings for things we've already talked about, only new situations.
    – nGinius
    Jun 6, 2011 at 21:31
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    I love that your rules apply to you, too! We try to do this in various ways, so it's clear that the rules are fair. For example, after one incident with a minor spanking at daycare, we told our child this was not acceptable because "we don't hit" and we made a great big deal out of the fact that we talked to the daycare provider and told them physical hitting wasn't acceptable -- and they apologized to our child. We applied the same rules to the adults as the child. It's only fair. Aug 31, 2012 at 22:01

There's a sliding scale

It starts out with verbal warning and ends up with being sent to their room, with a whole spectrum of other measures in between. What you can do depends on logistics (are you at home or out and about), whether you have other children to manage at the same time, and energy levels.

Here's the scale we use:

  1. Verbal Warning. So the behaviour is turning bad and either other children are getting upset or you're not liking their behaviour. So you put on your 'big voice' and say, very clearly and sternly, their name, repeated until they're listening, then in the same voice that you'd like them to stop/do-less/do-more, whatever. Often this will nip the problem in the bud.
  2. Timeout/Exclusion. When verbal warnings don't get results, you need to state (big voice) that they'll be excluded from whatever they're doing right now for a timeout. This can be a naughty corner/spot/step/chair or just having to go stand in another room where its' no fun. Removing the child from the current situation does a lot to diffuse the situation, so this is pretty effective, but you will find that they fight against it when they realise they're being excluded. They should be excluded for one minute for every year old that they are (Supernanny tip). If they leave the 'exclusion zone', put them back and start the timer again. Use an audible alarm to signal the end of the time and ask them to explain themselves and that you want an apology. After apologies, lets' make up with a hug.
  3. Removal of privileges. Whatever small privileges you allow them can be temporarily removed until their behaviour improves. Television time is a good example - no TV until behaviour improves for a whole day. No bedtime story is another. No food at all is going too far - they still need food and water!
  4. Removal of possessions. Temporarily putting away a favourite toy until behaviour improves is effective, but very upsetting, so you need to state clearly what the conditions are to get that toy back.
  5. Sent to room. When they've been so bad that you need them out of the way so you can tidy up/put out the fire, then escorting them to their bedroom with a big voice explaining that they're to stay there until you come and get them is a bold move. Yes, they'll fight on the way there, but once inside they'll be pretty upset, so you mustn't overdo this one. Follow the explain-yourself, apologise-to-me-please, lets-hug steps in (2).

Sometimes a combination may be best. A friend of mine's 6-year-old stated that the dinner his mother had served up looked like 'dog poo'. So his father explained clearly to him that his behaviour was unacceptable and that he should apologise to his mother. He refused, so the father took the sons' food back to the kitchen, made the son sit back from the table and watch while everyone else tucked in. The food was pretty good so all the family (except the naughty one) enjoyed it and talked about how nice it was. By the end of the meal, the 6-year-old was pretty hungry and repentant but upset that father had thrown his food away. Of course he hadn't, he'd just hidden it. This hasn't happened again since.

  • 4
    The only item I'd add is that (in our experience) removal of possessions temporarily is more effective than removal of privileges. It has a more immediate and measurable impact, at least with our child. And there are times the privileges (Nick Jr / Disney.com computer time is the big one for us) is a perk for the parents as much as the kid. :)
    – Saiboogu
    Mar 30, 2011 at 0:39
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    Step 0 explain what you see/hear they are doing, what the effects are on you/the room/someone else and explain why that is bad. Then simply ask them to stop. Don't start with warnings if they don't even know it is a bad thing to say.
    – Barfieldmv
    Mar 30, 2011 at 6:50
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    @prmaodc84 only the first of those techniques is even remotely appropriate for a parent interacting with a child.
    – user420
    Jun 3, 2011 at 19:39
  • @Saiboogu Hmm, maybe some sort of concrete symbol representing the the removed permission would help make even the more abstract concept feel like an immediate and measurable effect? Like moving a fridge magnet (with the permission in question written on it) to a "denied" -area or something like that. Jun 6, 2011 at 19:27

When my four-year-old daughter is pushing a boundary, I try to find a penalty that relates to the boundary and that I'm willing to enforce. I then explicitly give her the power to make a choice. For example, "if you use a toy to hit, you are telling me you can't play with that toy anymore." Often this takes some very quick and creative thinking (and sometimes requires the suspension of logic) to tie it to the situation. The older the child, the more general and preemptive the penalties can get. Even still, the more specific and in-the-moment you can reinforce that they have a choice, the more likely they are to choose your desired behavior.

If it's worth it to her to continue pushing the boundary, I give a clear reminder that she chose the penalty, and carry through with the penalty. No matter what. No negotiation. If the penalty was getting something taken away, I tell her what actions she can take to get it back. If necessary, I also give another, more serious, penalty choice if she continues the behavior.

Another note - we don't use time-outs as punishment. Instead, they're used for cooling down when emotions of parents and/or children get out of control. For this reason we call them "wild breaks".

  • 1
    This is such a wonderful answer because your system is about teaching and allowing for mistake-making rather than the typical answers which all really point to controlling the child. Since being controlled won't help them learn decision making skills, your plan is much better than any of the others listed above. AND I don't have to write about it now. Oct 28, 2012 at 23:17

First an foremost, we ask our children leading questions to get them to think about what they're doing:

  • Me: "What are you doing?"
  • Child: "I don't know."
  • Me: "Your talking about poop at the table. Do you think that its appropriate to talk about that while we're trying to eat dinner?"
  • Child: "No"


  • Me: "What are you doing?"
  • Child: "Talking meanly to my brother."
  • Me: "How does it make you feel when someone talks meanly to you?"
  • Child: "Sad"
  • Me: "How do you think your brother feels when you talk meanly to him?"
  • Child: "Sad"
  • Me: "What would be a better way of asking him to open the door?"
  • Child: "Brother, can you please open the door"
  • Me: "That's a great idea, why don't you try it?"

With our 5 and 3 year old, consistent "Super Nanny" style timeout seems to be effective.

  1. Give a warning - "This is your warning for talking about poop at the dinner table"
  2. Give an ultimatum - "If you continue talking like that at the table, you will go to timeout"
  3. Send to timeout - Grab their arm gently, walk them to the timeout chair/corner, sit them down, say "You're in timeout because you were talking inappropriately at the table"
  4. Wait it out - Set a timer for one minute per child's age. If they get up, don't say anything, just grab them and put them back. If they're talking to you, just ignore them. If they're screaming / crying, just ignore them. If they're still screaming or crying hard when time runs out, let them sit a little longer to calm down (but this seldom happens for us).
  5. Get them out - Say, "I put you in timeout because you were speaking inappropriately at the table. What do you have to say for yourself?" Make sure they apologize and give you a hug. If they don't just let them sit another minute and repeat the step. Try not to ask questions like "Why did I put you in timeout" because that can be a source of confrontation. Just keep it simple.

With our 18mo toddlers (and with the older kids when they were under 2yo), we just restrain them by holding both of their arms down to their sides firmly and looking them straight in the eyes and saying "NO" and shaking our heads. Then we stare at them for about 15 seconds. If they continue, we just remove them from the situation to prevent them from repeating the mistake. We have no doubt that timeout will work fine for them too. This teaches them that the word "no" and the action of shaking our heads means we're serious.

When our 15 year old was younger, he was very oppositional, so techniques like timeout didn't work well with him. He would repeat his mistakes and resent that we put him in timeout. We had to work through some other underlying issues to improve the situation.

So based on my experience, timeout will work with 4 out of 5 kids. :-)

  • Children aren't "oppositional". They have strong needs for dignity like the rest of us. When their needs for belonging and significance are met, they thrive. Nov 21, 2012 at 4:24
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    @ChristineGordon - Ever heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
    – J.J.
    Nov 21, 2012 at 16:21
  • yes of course I have. Nov 21, 2012 at 16:48

Like you, our son reacted to time out (naughty step) as if it was fun. I don't think he did enjoy it, I think he was pushing back at us - indicating that he didn't accept the power we were exerting. It made me think about punishment.

The book 'How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk' says that punishment can distract from learning (which is the goal) because when you are punished you remember the punishment (and potentially your sense of its injustice) more than the lesson associated with it.

Its important to set consistent boundaries, but its better to confirm these with natural consequence rather than enforce them with punishment. So if the child is behaving badly in a game, end the game. Also, you have to 'catch them being good' as well - make sure you notice and praise good behaviour.

To be honest, I've found it a difficult approach, but a focus on punishment (and not physical punishment) just made the behaviour worse. I'm happier with my son now and happier with myself - at least most days! :)


There has to be boundaries, but there doesn't have to be punishment. I am unsure what age your daughter is, but what is most effective with most ages is to give them choices. The choices are obviously 2 options that are acceptable within your boundaries, yet you empower them to have self control. For example, "Either sit down on your chair and eat, or I will take your food away." They have a choice. Eat or don't eat. or "Pick up the book, or clean up the blocks." They have to clean their own messes. Then whatever they chose, they do the next thing and something great happens...like "time for a snack!"

  • -1. I know the "children of all ages should always have choices, otherwise they grow up feeling helpless" meme is very popular, but I have yet to see it work out well. A child pushing boundaries should not be given additional flexibility on top of the limits they are already pushing.
    – user420
    Jul 7, 2011 at 12:03
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    When it is within the parent's boundaries it is within limits. It works every time with my 5 different kids. If my kids are testing my boundaries at the age of 2, and they have that look in their eye with a handful of food and I just know they are planning to throw it on the floor, I don't get mad or punish. I just say calmly, "If you throw it, you will clean it up." It is within my boundaries. They have a choice. That is teaching lifelong lessons. I won't always be there to watch out for their actions. We always have a consequence when we make a poor choice. Jul 8, 2011 at 1:42
  • Choices work out REALLY well when given pre-emptively because it empowers the child BEFORE an issue has arisen. An example of this might be, "which long sleeved shirt would you like to wear, the purple or the red?" The boundary is that the shirt be long-sleaved. Then the choice is a real choice. This methodology respects the child and sets you up with fewer battles to begin with. Oct 28, 2012 at 23:27

When my son needs to be corrected, we place him in a specific corner of the living room, and explain him with what he has done and why is it wrong and tell him to be on that corner thinking about it for 1 minute.

He is only 2, so any other kind of punishment right now is pointless in our case.


My son is 22 months old, so whenever he does something unacceptable, I have to tell him repeatedly that it is wrong. But with his age, I know I still have to extend my patience. I still believe that the best way to punish children is to delay their gratification. Like, do not allow them to watch TV, or they will not be allowed to go in a friend's house for a day. So they would know that you are still the authority, and they should respect it. I also believe that after punishing, you have to talk to them and explain to them why they have to be punished and what is the proper thing to do. Spanking is definitely not an option. I also remember what my grandfather told me. He said never spank or hurt your children physically, or else they will carry the hurt until they grow old, and for sure you will have a strained relationship with your children.