The Public Time Out

Several weeks ago, I blogged asking you all for some help with my tiny spitfire, Gracie.  She was becoming more than Chris and I could handle, and we were out of ideas for how to parent her.  You all came through like you always do, and we tried out a lot of the things you suggested.  Over the next couple weeks, I’ll share some changes we’ve made around our house that have fairly quickly resulted in a much more peaceful home life and a much happier Gracie.

One of the biggest problems we had with Gracie was going out to eat with her.  We are a family on the go.  We love to get out and try new things, but Gracie was making that really hard.  Through the urging of a lot of blog readers to stay firm and consistent, we continued to go out in public (though it was against our better judgment!), and we really firmed up our acceptance of Gracie’s behaviors while we were out.


The major problem we had with Gracie was that she didn’t want to sit in her seat, so she would pitch a fit.  Then, we would take her away from the table as punishment, but she was really getting exactly what she wanted.  So, what were we supposed to do?  Let her sit there screaming, just to be sure she didn’t get her way?  We couldn’t do that.  Instead, I started a new type of time out when we are out in public and it is working like a charm.

Some of you suggested that we change what “time out” is for Gracie, since she seems to really love sitting in time out.  Out in public, Gracie loved being taken away from the table because for those 5 or 10 minutes, she got to walk around outside or (more important to her) have my full attention.  She didn’t have to share me with a table full of people.  That’s when I realized that Gracie’s time outs had to include some kind of isolation from me, too.

Now, when we are out in public and Gracie acts up at the table (usually screaming and crying), I give her a firm warning.  (“Gracie, if you don’t stop crying, you are not going to be allowed to sit with us.”)


If she doesn’t get it together right away, then I take her away from the table.  For Gracie, one thing we have learned is that we have to use immediate punishments or rewards.  If we let the behavior go on at ALL without the consequence, then she pushes it over the line.  Also, I’m the one who does time outs because Chris is a total push over, especially when it comes to Gracie.  He can’t help it.

When I take her away from the table, I make her walk.  I don’t carry her.  I hold her hand and guide her out of the restaurant – completely outside, not even in the lobby or waiting area.  We go outside and I make her sit on the ground somewhere (usually just next to the front door).  Now, she is removed completely from an audience.  There are no people around to snicker and blow kisses at her while she fake pouts.  She’s had her audience taken away, which is the first part of her time out.

Then (and this is the part that has made all the difference), I stand up next to her with my back to her as much as possible, but of course where I can constantly see her.  The standing while she is sitting immediately takes me out of her world.  I’m now up above her somewhere.  And with my back somewhat turned to her, there is no mistaking that she is being punished.

We stand/sit like this for just a minute or two.  Not long at all because Gracie has gotten the idea.  If she doesn’t sit nicely at the table, then she’ll have to sit by herself outside.  After the minute or two, I ask her if she’s ready to be a big girl at the table and sit without crying.  She usually says yes, and then I ask her to say she’s sorry, and she does.  Then we walk back inside together, and she gets up in the table without any kind of fanfare.  No stopping the conversation at the table to welcome her back, no acknowledgement that she’s been gone, really.  She just has to get back in her seat and continue on with everyone else.

I cannot tell you what a difference this has made.  It was almost an instant change.  We’ve really only had to do it a handful of times because once she realized what is meant to leave the table, she would much rather sit nicely with everyone else.

So, that little problem is solved.  On to the next!


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10 Thoughts to “The Public Time Out”

  1. Janie

    Oh, those pigtails! How adorable! 🙂

  2. beth

    That is a great idea! wow I wish I had that when my kids were her age

  3. Man, so many good ideas from your posts! I feel like I should flag these posts for when I start having kids. I was exactly like Gracie as a baby, so I have no doubt I’ll have one just like I was 🙂

  4. JustAng

    How do you keep her from running away? My 22-month-old would never just sit there outside. She’d be running away, screaming and tantruming. I feel like I’m at a total loss over the discipline issue! Nothing is working!

  5. mae

    I have the same problem with my 21 month old that you had with Gracie. I am going to have to try this with her the next time we are eating out and she starts crying and acting crazy. She hates being put in time out and being away from everyone so maybe it will work!

  6. Joanie

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have struggled so much with my son when we are out in public. A few weeks ago I met a friend and her daughter (both kids are 22 months) at Perkins. Charlie threw everything in sight…books, forks, knives, spoons, cups, etc. I was mortified. I took him away from the table into the bakery and sat him in the corner…it is -10 here right now so going outside wasn’t an option. Bummer is my son won’t sit in “time out”. He gets up immediately and says sorry….little buggers.

  7. HeatherM

    WAY TO GO!!! Mastering the public time out is to toddler parenting what the quadruple-toe-loop is to ice skating. I think it is one of the toddler parenting tasks with the highest degree of difficulty out there. If you can master this, you can do anything!

    It sounds like you have found Gracie’s “currency”- in this case her currency is attention, and so you use it as a reward and as a punishment.

    Again, WAY TO GO!!!!

  8. Lissa

    YEP! Our daughters were fairly laid back (especially in restaurants–sorry :)), but we followed the same principle: ONE time only we took them outside and sat them on the curb. They always knew that we meant what we said. I saw an awful 4 year old daughter and mother exchange in Target today: child was behaving dreadfully (which we all know about), but the mother kept talking and talking and threatening and taking away stuff while the child was screaming “but I want to buy something”. ON and on it went. Seriously! Tell the child “I know it’s hard to be little, but you have one chance to behave right now or we are leaving the store”. And then leave! I think of it as “pay now/pay later”.
    Katie: you’re terrific! I love how you get good ideas from lots of people, talk to your husband and then come up with a plan for your own family!

  9. […] I have made in the past couple months to how we parent Gracie. On Tuesday, I talked about our new public time out. Today, I thought I’d share about one of the things we’re doing at […]

  10. tcookson

    Wow, I wish we’d know about that when our now-16-year-old was that age! We had about 2 years where we just couldn’t eat out!

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