Disciplining small children is hard. Many parents are divided on the idea of spanking vs. non-corporal punishments. Parents have told me that it’s much easier to spank a kid and move on than it is to stick to a punishment like making a child go to bed early, or enforcing no desert for a week. They say that spanking shows a little brat who’s boss and it builds upon what one father I came across last year called a “healthy fear of dad.” I’m not sure there is such thing as a healthy fear of anything, unless we are talking about things like having a healthy fear of, say, bears and tigers and guns. Otherwise I think it’s a flawed theory.

But I’ll openly concede that getting a truly irate three year old into the naughty chair for timeout is about as easy a trying to herd cats; the same way that attempting to get a habitually back-talking kid to shut his or her stinking mouth is probably about as easy as convincing your boss to give you a $1.6 million dollar raise. Nevertheless, full-blown spankings should never be your first recourse when a good, structured timeout is possible and appropriate. Allow me to share with you how my wife and I turned disorganized timeouts into organized, meaningful punishments.

First you gotta make sure that you have the tools you need to pull it off. Get yourself an egg timer, nothing fancy just something to count out the minutes. Second, decide on where the timeouts will be and stick to it. I know a parent that has decided that the first step on their staircase is the “naughty step” others have a specific corner in their house where the kid must stand. Corners are particularly good because they are kind of portable, you can always find one in public if they need a timeout in a restaurant or store. In my house we use a kid sized sofa as the naughty seat. Third, make sure you have lots of patience as you go into the process; it may not work perfectly the first few times.

The real reason why this process works is the egg timer. The timer makes sure that the timeout is a fair length. Experts say one minute per year of age is most appropriate so a two year old gets a two minute timeout – I personally don’t abide by that rule of thumb, mine are longer and more stressful, but the expert advice may work for you. The bell lets the kid know when it’s over so you don’t have to. The ticking reminds the kid that the timeout is still going on. And the timer itself seems to have some kind of psychic power that causes temporary paralysis. What I also like to do before the time out is make sure the kid is clear on why he’s going into time out. I ask the questions “Why do you need a timeout? And what did you just say or do that wasn’t nice?” And when it’s over I ask “Why did daddy put you into timeout?” Sometimes they need help with the answers, most times they don’t. They’re not stupid, they know what they did.

There are plenty of ways to get through to your kids without hitting. Figure them out and you may be able to avoid lifelong resentment. Until next time dads, take care of yourselves.