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The Tale of the First Time Out

I don’t even know where to start because I’m at a loss for words. I feel a little sick to my stomach and want to laugh at the same time, but isn’t that being a parent? Everything is always a big pile of mixed emotions. Since Zelda was born people have spoken to me about the terrible twos and in addition, have said that when she turns three everything will change. However, we didn’t have the terrible twos and coasted right through her second year…up until last Wednesday. Once again, I thought I had reinvented the wheel. I thought I had the perfect child and that she was never going to give it me.

Parenting advice on giving your child their first time out.

Last Wednesday, that notion quickly came crumbling down. A mere forty-eight hours before she turned three, my new little three-nager arrived. It was as if a totally different little girl had entered the room and inhabited Zelda’s body. Now don’t get me wrong, Zelda is still so sweet, empathetic and loving, but instead of getting that Zelda one hundred percent of the time, we are hovering somewhere around ninety-eight percent. I’m sure eventually that scale might slide even a little further down.

We all know that kids go through phases and Zelda entered a MAJOR phase last week. I told Zelda to get ready for bed and she didn’t want to hear it. In response to my directions, she walked up and slapped me in the face. I decided there would be zero tolerance for any kind of hitting phase, no matter who the target was. I’ve never given Zelda a time out before because I’ve never had a reason to do so. After she slapped me, I grabbed her by the hand, led her to the bedroom and told her she was in time out. I expected her to cry, kick and scream for mercy. There was none of that. I told her to sit in the corner and she slowly slid her back down the wall, staring at me. She never broke eye contact.

Family decisions about time out.

I started to get a little confused because her time out had become a stare off. I had never seen this before and had never read about it anywhere. All I could think to myself was, “Oh shit. What do I do now?” I was not prepared for this. I continued to stare back at her but was dying inside. I wanted to laugh but was mad at the same time. I didn’t break eye contact and sternly told her, “What you did was wrong. Do not hit.” She looked back at me and said, “Leave! I’m in time out.” WTF?!

I was so confused. Not only had she told me to leave, but she had acknowledged she was in time out. She’s never been in a time out before — how did she know what was going on? I left the room and told Spiro what happened. Naturally, he laughed but acknowledged there was still a problem that needed to be addressed. We had no idea what to do so I just let her sit in time out for a few more minutes. I finally went back in to check on her and said, “Do you understand? We do not hit.” Once again, she told me to leave. I came out of the room and asked Spiro to handle it. Spiro is amazing but he has a philosophical side to him. I didn’t know how he would handle it. Would he would go into the room and try to discuss the meaning of love with her? Was this a good decision? Would this be a two hour pow wow or would he laugh? What was going to happen?

How to manage a child's first time out.

I had lost complete control and felt like I was watching someone else’s life from afar. This was his take on the situation:

“Zelda and Corri were getting ready for bed and Zelda was insisting she did not want to put on her pajamas. Corri told her she had to do it and in response, Zelda hit her in the face. After placing Zelda in time out, Corri asked me to go and speak with Zelda to tell her that what she did was wrong. I approached her as she was sitting in our bedroom right next to the dresser and said, “Zelda, we do not hit. We talk. What you did was wrong. Go say I’m sorry to mama and give her a big kiss.”

“NO!” she replied. After reiterating that we do not hit people she inquired why and in response I told her, “We do not hit because it is not nice and we are nice and gentle. We talk and we do not hit.” Brimming with anger, she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I HIT!” 

At this point I was really struggling to keep a straight face and maintain my fatherly composure. I swallowed my urge to burst out laughing and stated, “If you don’t go back out there and say I’m sorry to mama and give her a big kiss you are going to have to stay in time out.” She climbed down from our bed, went back to her time out spot and exclaimed, “Okay, I will stay in time out!” Determined that she was going to apologize, I replied, “No, this is not how this is going to go down, Zelda. You are going to go out there because mama loves you so much, she is hurting and you need to help her and go say I’m sorry. Do not ever hit her again.”

With annoyance written all over face she said, “Uhhh, okay.” It was as if she was looking at me thinking this is crazy bullshit. She left the bedroom, kissed Corri and apologized. Wish us good luck with this one, we are going to have some fun – OH SHIT.”

How to put your toddler in time out.

If you know Spiro, this is mild. It’s his first time chiming in on Glitter and Bubbles so I suspect he might have been trying to keep it a little PC. When Zelda informed him she would stay in time out we were totally lost. Was there a hotline we could call? Could we phone our pediatrician? What the hell were we supposed to do? We were two successful, educated adults looking at each other without a clue. When Zelda came out to apologize to me it wasn’t in the way that my sweet, loving Zelda would say sorry. It was more like an FU, I’m not really sorry but I don’t want to deal with this. That was the moment I realized my child had entered a new chapter. My baby, who will always be my baby, wasn’t really a baby anymore. Zelda is coming into her own, has begun testing limits, figuring out who she is and watching her personality develop has been amazing (the good and the bad!).

I always say living with a toddler is like living with a tiny drunk person. They eat buns without hot dogs, they take their shoes off at restaurants, are always blunt and will tell you your face looks wet when you try a new dewy makeup look. This instance also made me realize that when my mom spoke to me like she ruled the world, she had no idea what she was doing.  None of us know what we are doing and we need to embrace the chaos. Zelda hasn’t hit me since and while it was a harrowing experience, I know we have made some progress. She has also become quick to apologize in a very sweet way if she feels she has done something wrong.

Zelda Glitter and Bubbles in Time Out

Additionally, I chatted with our pediatrician at Zelda’s three-year checkup and she advised parents be short and stern when situations such as this arise. She told us to look our child in the eyes and say, “We DO NOT hit.” It’s important to say it in an authoritative tone so the child knows it is not a joke. A toddler’s attention span and processing ability is not at a mature level and when you try to tell them something long winded you become like Charlie Brown’s teacher and your child will have no idea what you are saying. Good luck to everyone! I would LOVE to hear your experiences in the comments below. It is so great to share stories with other parents and it makes me feel like I’m not alone — it’s like having a mini parenting support group! Let me know I’m not the only one.

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