Handcuffs For Toddlers: Bad Idea? You Decide

20 months.

There is a buzz on the Internet I intend to start right now about the idea of handcuffing your toddler during their time-out sessions for bad behavior.

I am one of those parents who is attempting not to spank my child; instead focusing heavily on setting concrete expectations and follow-through for age-appropriate discipline, which does not include any form of hitting.

So by going the time-out route, I am ultimately saying this to my child:

“Instead of me physically punishing you by smacking you on the butt with my hand or a fly swatter or a paddle, I am going to socially separately you from the society of this house.

Sure, it will only be for about 2 minutes since you are about 2 years old, but you will despise it.

You will be separated from the people you love the most and who love you the most. You will be contained in your crib, which has bars like a prison. Your freedom will be temporarily be taken away.

I intend to punish you psychologically, which will in turn hopefully help to discipline you.”

Granted, I always explain to my son why he is being sent to what I call “Baby Alcatraz.” He has to say he is sorry to the person he hurt and/or offended.

I hug him afterwards and remind him that I love him. Then I say something like, “Okay, now let’s have a fun rest of the day.”

This past weekend, my sister, her husband, and their 13 month-old daughter came to visit us here in Nashville from two and a half hours away.

Though my son doesn’t have trouble sharing his toys in daycare, he evidently does here at the house. Because as he kept reminding his younger little cousin, the toys she was playing with were “MINE!

He ended up pushing her down on the floor and hitting my sister really hard on the shin with a TV remote.

Needless to say, I escorted him upstairs to Baby Alcatraz. Twice within 20 minutes.

During that dramatic escapade, I thought to myself, “Why aren’t I arresting him with plastic toy handcuffs when I do this?”

Maybe it would help drive home the point that he is not permitted to use his hands to hurt other people.

Is “arresting” your toddler with play handcuffs really so horrible of an idea? Whether you spank them or put them in time-out, you’re still punishing them in the process of discipline.

I want to avoid physically striking my child, though I’m obviously okay with physically restraining him. What would be so bad about putting him behind bars and handcuffing him on the way there? Seems consistent to me.

Having to discipline your kid is weird and annoying anyway; are toy plastic handcuffs during time-out really so awful?

Stop me from buying plastic toy handcuffs to arrest to my son for time-out. Or support the absurd idea.

Okay, go…

Top image: Plastic toy handcuffs, via Shutterstock.

Bottom image: Adorable funny baby boy, via Shutterstock.


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  1. by Amber T

    On August 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    My daughter is now 3 and a half. I have used spanking and time outs as well. I was very firm and consistent with her punishments with the goal in mind that I would be able to start telling her “If you don’t stop by the count of 3 you will get a _______” (Depending on what she’s doing). I almost never have to swat her butt anymore, I’ve done it once in the last couple months because she was being very rough with our overly patient dog. I would not physically restrain her, something about ‘handcuffs’ doesn’t feel right. I’ve also taken her toys from her, and if she hasn’t straightened up, she never got them back. I HATED doing this because some of them were expensive and nice toys but once I told her “IF you throw that one more time, you won’t get it back” and she threw it, I HAD to follow through :-( The funny thing is, as mean as I’m sounding here, she is my total buddy. She wants me to read to her (not my husband), me to cuddle with her watching TV, runs to me all the time. I love her and I hope that I can maintain the good balance I have with her forever. My goal was for her to understand that I mean what I say, so don’t test me. And I think she’s getting it now. I mean she’s still a total brat if she hasn’t had a nap, but that’s just being a typical 3 yr old. Lol

  2. by Susan

    On August 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I’m pretty sure you’re kidding, but I can certainly understand the desire! We use time-outs for the worst of offenses, usually hitting, and it is very effective. He hates to be put in his crib away from us! I recently read that you shouldn’t use the bedroom, and especially the crib, for time-out because that is supposed to be reserved for only positive experiences. I guess that makes sense, but I can’t even imagine the patience involved in making my son sit still for 2 minutes in a time-out chair or something. Hmm perhaps those handcuffs would be helpful after all?

  3. by Natassija Harrington

    On August 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    When your in the real world and you get in trouble your punishment starts with “REAL” handcuffs and a really long time out. To teach our children right from wrong and real consequences for their actions handcuffs don’t sound like that bad an idea, besides maybe it will stop my 3 year old for opening the door and leaving time out without permission.

  4. by Will

    On August 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I think the symbolism will be utterly lost on a child that young, and the whole toy-as-punishment thing could really, really backfire. Honestly, when I clicked on this article I thought it was something about using your bondage gear on misbehaving kids, and I was like, whoa, that’s crossing some boundaries, there.

  5. by Helen

    On August 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Hmm… not sure. Child might get hurt in the transfer to the time-out area. Child could also end up considering it a part of the routine and think it isn’t so bad. My daughter is 17mo now so I haven’t had as much experience with the need for discipline yet (knock on wood).

    As for where to have as a time-out area, I’m thinking her old high-chair (if she’s still light and small enough) or her booster seat that has restraints on it if you are not supposed to use the crib? We also have some old play yard type areas that are no longer used that might work (until she gets bigger, of course).

  6. by jonB

    On August 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    It is difficult and time consuming turning blank slates into rational creative thinkers. I personally use positive reinforcement whenever possible. We have special toys, games, and even treats that we only break out when we see good behaviors. Physical restraint, and emotional neglect have some very negative connotations, as well as violence of course. What message are you going to be sending to your child using handcuffs and prison bars (timeouts in cribs)? If your child throws toys in an inappropriate manner, let her break a few and not have them anymore as a result. If they are abusive to other children, remind them that the other child will then not want to be a playmate. Children can and do respond to simple logic. It does indeed take more time and patience, but the results are having children that don’t think of a “physical” solution when encountering problems in life.

  7. by Passerby

    On August 14, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Helen, I really, really wouldn’t recommend either of those options. First of all, an upset child can easily throw their highchair over, and there’s no safe way to fall strapped into a chair like that. Secondly, it’s illegal (in the US at least) to tie your kids up like that for punishment. Personally I think trapping them in a crib when they’re freaking out is a perfectly healthy response, but legally it’s child endangerment. Same goes for locking them in their room if they won’t stay in when you send them there.

    And if nothing else, do you really want the “but I didn’t DO anything wrong, mom!” tantrum every single time you try to load them into a car or put them in their playpen? You can’t expect them to go willingly again to whatever place is ‘the bad place’ to them now.

  8. by Rachel S

    On August 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

    My son started with the whole hitting thing not too long ago. He is 19 months. We started to go through our discipline options. Time outs, telling him no, we even thought about spanking him. But before we got to that point we tried holding the hand he hit us with, basically giving his hand a time out. I basically take his hand/hands/leg/legs depending on what he is doing at the moment (hitting, kicking, with one or both appendages) and hold on to them for a little while, maybe 30 seconds to a minute depending on how he is acting, all the while explaining that we don’t hit and when we choose to hit we lose the option of using our arms for awhile. This out of everything we have tried so far has actually worked for us. So I guess it is similar to handcuffs except much less disturbing to others.