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Discipline: Toddler Time-Out Rules

While it may not be a milestone for the baby book, giving your toddler her very first time-out is a big step because it's the first time a child is given a chance to calm herself without a caregiver's help. “Time-outs can be used effectively starting at around eighteen months,” says Edward R. Christophersen, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospital, in Kansas City, MO. Follow these four rules to keep the message age-appropriate:

Rule 1: Skip the pre-time-out finger wagging.

“If you throw that truck one more time, you'll get a time-out!” Kid translation: I get to throw this one more time before Mom flips! “Once you've stated a rule, the next step should be an unemotional instruction to go to time-out,” says Christophersen. And keep the message short and clear. For instance, with a 2-year-old, you can just say “Time-out—throwing.”

Rule 2: Forget about a “naughty chair” or anything like that.

“Requiring a toddler to sit still is unrealistic and unnecessary,” Christophersen says. What you're really doing is giving your child a time-out from parental attention. Say “Time-out—screaming” and walk to the other side of the room.

Rule 3: Learn to ignore.

During time-out, you need to keep your cool—and your distance. “Your child should be able to see you, but she should see that you're not mad and that she's missing out on quality time with you.” Try to interact as little as possible during the time-out.

Rule 4: Don't overdo it.

“Time-out should last until the child has calmed down,” Christophersen says. “And then it's over, finished, done. There is no need to discuss the misbehavior again.”