Why the Naughty Step Doesn’t Work

By Emma-Louise Hodson, experienced founder of Horizon Nannies

Ah… The Naughty Step.

Since ‘Super Nanny’ came into our homes via our TV screens in the noughties and showed us just how wrong some parents get it, it seemed as though one of her methods of sitting children down on the naughty step when things got out of hand, or when the children didn’t comply with what they had been told, worked. Eventually we see the child in question submit and with their tail between their legs, they realised what they’d done and apologised to their parent and all was forgiven. The drama was over and it seemed to do the trick. Right?…

dealing with toddler tantrums, naughty step

Before I start, I’d like to say that I firmly believe in there being consequences to actions; both undesirable actions and – preferably – desirable behaviour that we wish our children would repeat. So this isn’t about children not being responsible for their behaviour, because I absolutely believe that the only way to raise responsible, caring adults, is to start with showing children how to own their behaviour and come to the right conclusions about how to behave in the future… which brings me back to the naughty step.

It Doesn’t Work

The Naughty Step has no connection to what a child has done wrong; unless they absolutely hate steps and you are trying some sort of therapy in which sitting on one for a certain amount of time will eventually make them love the step- it’s not going to work. It will possibly be a game at first to them- to see if you’re really going to make them sit there. Then it will turn into a power struggle, which, seeing as you’re the adult, you will eventually win but, unfortunately will lead to testing the boundaries in other ways to see if and when they can win; eventually spiraling out of control into other areas of your life and escalating a situation that could have been over with fairly quickly had it been handled correctly.

What’s Going On Inside Their Brains?

We have to remember that toddlers are slaves to the limbic system – the part of our brains that deals with emotions. Their brains haven’t yet developed the skills to rationalise and reflect on their behaviour. Sitting on a step is not going to suddenly make them realise what they’ve done wrong. Instead, it’s going to make them feel rejected, defiant and less likely to cooperate with us. Over time, the child will start to believe that they are “Naughty Children”, instead of being a child who is displaying unwanted behaviour.

What Can We Do Instead?

A better idea is to explain what the behaviour was that you didn’t like and give them alternatives to show how they could have managed that better. Yes, they are toddlers and don’t always understand or seem to respond to your reasoning, but over time, the message will go in and the undesired behaviour will cease. We have to remember that we are the adults. We are the ones that can control our emotions and stay calm. The way to raise calm children, is to lead by example. Getting into an argument with them over staying on a step is not going to show them that you’re in control in a good way, it’s going to show that you’re winning this battle because you are bigger and stronger than they are, not because you’ve got the tools to overcome the problem that has arisen.

As a side-note, if the behaviour is violent or harming another child, then by all means remove the toddler from the situation and explain why you’ve done that.

Author Bio

Emma-Louise set up Horizon Nannies as a nanny agency who want to do things a little differently.    With years of experience in the nanny industry, they know that there are a lot of things that could be done differently and more easily.  They’re here to make everything go smoothly, whether you’re a family looking for your first nanny, or a top-notch nanny looking for your next career progression. Being on your side impacts their decision to be an advocate for both nannies and families.  Horizon Nannies cover London and surrounds as well as Europe and Asia.


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