Trials and Tribulations of Disciplining a Preschooler {and the Successes}

October 22, 2012

Tracy is the founder and managing editor of Liberating Working Moms, also one of my dearest friends. She’s writing today on discipling a preschool aged  child, and how it’s an ever evolving thing.


For the first two years of Abby’s life, when she misbehaved, she didn’t have much forethought about what being naughty was and what consequences were for it. We’d try time out, but it hardly ever curved the behavior. I kept at it, though, because I knew consistency was key to getting her to understand that I meant business.

Did I read any parenting books to help me come to this decision? Nope. When it came time to start to hold my child accountable for her behavior, I remembered information I gleaned from all those nanny shows on television. True story. Being consistent. Trying not to get too emotionally involved. Trying not to take it too personally. And when the time was right, go down to her level and talk to her to make sure she knows why she was placed in time out, always making sure she know that I loved her, but she needed to say sorry to either me or my husband, and we always ended with a hug and a kiss.

Around the two year mark, I noticed that she was able to retain information longer. Time outs on the stairs were working. Her behavior started to get better. She could tell you why she was placed in time out without me coaxing it out of her. She even could tell me that she needed to say sorry. I thought I was winning. And that thought was enough to make this discipline routine of ours go down the toilet.

Probably around 2.5 the “terrible two’s” reared its ugly head in my household. The stair wasn’t cutting it. She’d learned to say what she needed to get out of time out and then go back to doing the naughty behavior. Back on the stair she would go. Three or four times in an hour even. And then both my husband and I were getting very frustrated. Taking it personally. Getting emotionally invested, and ultimately making it harder to follow through with consistency.

One day I just had it. I decided I needed to raise the ante. And that’s when time outs in her room began. And when she could figure out how to open the door from the inside, a childproof door handle was put in place. Throw food across the table at dinner, immediate time out in her room. Say mean things to mommy and daddy, immediate time out in her room. Refuse to clean up your toys, immediate time out in her room even if it was close to bedtime.

Room time outs were hard at first. They are emotionally draining on everyone involved, but we now had a system set up where we could have a break from each other and as parents we didn’t have to worry about the whole escape the stair cat and mouse routine.

Of course there are lots of tears. Mostly from Abby inside her room, and sometimes from me as I stand outside her door, always making sure to wipe mine away before talking with her. But once I began to see how time outs in her room where becoming fewer and fewer, I was able to fully emotionally separate myself, to know that what I was doing was best to show her that there are consequences to her actions. This crying and fit throwing she was doing in her room was really cathartic for her to get all that pent up tension out. And as soon as the time is up in her room, I open the door, her tears immediately stop, I stoop down to chat with her, and she can easily tell me that she was sorry.

NOTE: I’m always outside her door and listen carefully to see if she’s doing anything dangerous. Most times she’s laying on the floor trying to see my feet to know I haven’t left her, as she’s pleading to be let out of her room.

Is this a perfect routine for us where my kid behaves like an angel all the time? Nope. I mean she’s on the cusp of turning three after all.  But has her behavior gotten better through the latter part of the two’s? Absolutely.  And when I see her making poor decisions, I now give her two choices. She could either continue the behavior, or go to her room for time out. And 8 out of 10 times, the behavior stops. She does try to call our bluff, mocking us, counting back to me, “1…2….3…Mommy. You go to your room.” And then she realizes that sass does not work with us when she ends up in her room.

Something new that I’ve realized this past month  is how bad she feels when she really hurts us. You see, we always tell her that she’s making us sad with her poor choices. The other night at bedtime, she took chapstick and rubbed it on our carpet, tinting it red. Once I cleaned it up and she was done with time out, she was still hysterical. And then it donned on me. She felt bad. She kept saying, “I want to be nice,” through a veil of tears. We kept her up a bit late that night, making sure she ended her day with some positive, happy interactions with us. She needed to know that going to bed wasn’t her punishment, and that we as her parents had faith in her ability to be a good person. And all of this, these deep seated thoughts of hers, and she’s not yet three.

My kid amazes me on a daily basis. She completely understands feelings and emotions and consequences. It’s taken nearly a year to get to this point, but it’s so worth it to finally see her responding so positively to our requests and mostly curtailing troubling behavior. I know when she turns three in a couple weeks, a new monster may be reeling its head, but I know that as parents we’ve armed ourselves and Abby with the tools needed to work through difficult situations. This too shall pass.


Tracy is the founder and managing editor of Liberating Working Moms, a blog devoted to the plight of the working mom where she’s working hard to create a community of supportive working moms. She is a working teacher momma to an almost 3 year-old daughter, Abigail. When she’s not busy with all things working mom, or managing writers over at LWM, she dabbles in freelance writing. Tracy regularly contributes to BlogHer’s Entertainment section, and has also been published online in ParentMap, the Pacific Northwest’s premiere parenting magazine. Several months ago, Tracy also began Mom to 5K…and beyond, a place to chat about her new journey of health and fitness. You can connect with her as she tweets @wa_tracy, or on the LWM Facebook page.


  • Amber

    October 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    We do the room time outs too. (Jonas turned three a few months ago)

    Sometimes it seems he just needs to get his emotions out before we can sit and reason and talk about what he did wrong. He is a good kid, but high energy and STUBBORN. Every other method of discipline seems to have little effect. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one using the room time out at this age. 🙂

  • Alexia @ Babies & Bacon

    October 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    We have a very similar situation going on over at our house but the couple times we put our daughter in her room she absolutely destroyed the room and even tore apart several books. Now we have a special time out chair upstairs and down, seems to work better. Great post!

    1. Tracy @ Liberating Working Moms

      October 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      I was so worried Abby would do that. But the girl just stands at her door, trying to open it or laying down trying to make sure I didn’t leave her. But good thoughts to know as she gets older if she chooses to do destruction. And I’m afraid to say this out loud for fear of jinxing it, but girlfriend hasn’t had a room time out in like two weeks.

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