When it comes to those tough toddler years, positive parenting and ‘no drama’ discipline are the latest trends on effective parenting advice. But, Robert Larzelere, PhD in the College of Human Sciences at Oklahoma State University, says don’t put timeout on the shelf yet.


Larzelere recently presented findings of his research, which investigated the immediate and longer-term effects of seven common disciplinary responses to toddler misbehavior, during the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Toronto, Canada.


“Parental discipline and positive parenting techniques are often polarized in popular parenting resources and in parenting research conclusions,” Larzelere said. “But scientifically supported parenting interventions for young defiant children have found that timeouts and other types of assertive tactics can work if they’re administered correctly.”


In his presentation, Larzelere said his research team from the Human Development and Family Science department interviewed 102 mothers who provided detailed descriptions of five times they had to discipline their toddlers for hitting, whining, defiance, negotiating or not listening.


Offering compromises was the most effective tactic for immediate behavior improvements, regardless of the type of misbehavior. Reasoning was the next most effective response when mothers were reacting to mildly annoying behaviors, such as negotiating or whining. Punishments, such as timeouts or taking away something, were more effective than reasoning when dealing with a toddler who was acting defiant or hitting. However, punishments were the least effective tactic for negotiating and whining children and reasoning was not effective when used with children who were defiant or hitting.


Longer-term effects revealed a different pattern. When the moms were interviewed two months later, those who offered compromises too frequently to the children who were hitting or acting defiant said their children were acting worse, Larzelere said. Frequent reasoning, however, was most effective over time for these children, even though it was the least effective response immediately. A moderate use of timeouts and other punishments (less than 16 percent of the time) led to improved behavior subsequently but only for these defiant children.


Larzelere said this is the first study to take into account the child’s type of noncompliance.


“We were able to investigate how the relative effectiveness of common disciplinary responses varies by the type of noncompliance in toddlers. It turned out that mothers varied their disciplinary tactics with the type of toddler noncompliance in a pattern that was usually more effective than following any one parenting expert exclusively,” Larzelere said.