What is a Time-In and Why is it recommended over Time-out?
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“GO TO YOUR ROOM AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU DID!!!!” you yell at your child.
You’re seething. You child runs upstairs and slams her door.
You know she’s not thinking about what she did. And you know she’s pissed at you in this moment – much like you are with her.
You know this because you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve had to put her in time-out for the same freaking thing.
You’re frustrated and tired and feeling a smidge guilty for sending her to her room – again. But what else can you do? If a time-out isn’t going to teach her, what else possibly could?
This is such a common dilemma!
But there is a tool out there that you should take advantage of. It’s called a time-in, also known as a positive time-out. It’s often overlooked by parents because it’s assumed to be too permissive.
But it’s not. And it works. Once you learn what a time-in actually is and how it works, you’ll never look back.
What is a Time-In?
A time-in is a positive parenting tool. The intention behind a time-in, also known as a positive time-out, is to respectfully teach our kids how to regulate their emotions. It also gives us a chance to help our kids learn that certain behaviors are inappropriate, and better behaviors that can replace them.
Time-ins actually build the connection that we have with our children.
When a parent puts their child in a time-in, it’s coming from a place of kindness and empathy. This by no means that we are letting bad behavior slide. It just means that we are patiently teaching our kids what’s ok and what isn’t and guiding them through any negative feelings of anger or sadness.
Here’s what a time-in might look like:
Let’s say your 4 year old is beginning to scream because he doesn’t get to have another cupcake. If you decided to use a time-in, you would calmly tell your child that you’re going to go with him to his room and help him calm down.
While you’re in his room with him, you would sit quietly near him and possibly empathize with him from time to time (I know you’re angry because you can’t have another cupcake) until he has calmed down.
Once he has calmed down, you can talk to him about why he can’t have another cupcake and brainstorm some better ways that he can handle his anger or disappointment next time.
I fully realize that you may be thinking right now, “yeah right… if only it were that easy!”. I’m going to be frank here – time-ins are not easy. It’s tough to stay calm when inside you’re incredibly frustrated. It’s even tougher to allow your child the time they need to calm down.
But keep reading. Later in this article, we’ll talk more about how to handle time-ins not only in theory, but in real life! Because we all know, real life makes things messier.
How is a Time-In Different from a Time-Out?
You might find that a time-in, on the surface, doesn’t look all that different from a time-out. But don’t let that fool you.
Time-ins feel different – both for you and your child. When we put our kids in a time-out, it’s often coming from a place of anger and frustration. We yell, “I’ve had enough – go to the corner for 5 minutes and think about what you did!”. And then we proceed to ignore our kids for the duration of the time-out.
Time-outs use isolation and withdrawal of love to punish our kids for “bad” behavior. It’s more of a punitive punishment than a teaching tool to use with our kids. And at the end of the day, isn’t our goal to teach our kids how to self-discipline and self-control?
The intent with a time-out to is to try to keep our kids from repeating a similar behavior. The idea is that they (hopefully) won’t behave this way again because if they do, they know they will be removed from everyone else. Because they don’t want to be away from us or the action, they will behave appropriately next time.
With a time-out, there’s usually not much discussion around why a behavior is not ok and what is expected of them instead. Kids are left to navigate these huge emotions of anger, rejection, sadness, and frustration all on their own.
On the flip side, time-ins are a parent’s way of showing their kids that how they are behaving is not acceptable and taking the time to explain to our kids more constructive ways to handle similar situations. Time-ins are also reminding our kids that we love them and that we are here for them when they need help.
What are the Effects of Time-Out?
Time-outs cause kids to feel shame and are more likely to intensify their feelings of anger, and possibly even cause them to feel resentful. They just feel icky.
You may even feel guilty for putting them in time-out once the storm has passed. Since your child is hurt though, it will be harder for you to connect with them and teach them the lesson that needs to be learned.
According to this article on PBS, “decades of neuroscience and social research have shown that timeouts and other methods of punishment are not only ineffective in steering the behavior of children but outright damaging.”
If I haven’t convinced you to retire time-outs yet, here are a few more reasons you’ll want to steer clear of it:
1. Time-outs can be completely exhausting for us parents.
How many of us really have kids that say “Ok, I’ll go sit on that chair in the corner for 5 minutes, mommy. And while I’m there, I’ll think about what I did and realize the error of my ways”? Mine certainly don’t.
I would have to physically drag my kid to the corner and restrain him to get him to stay. This just escalated his behavior. If we made it through the time-out, he would run upstairs to his room, tears streaming down his face, and slam his door. He was only 4.
Time-outs can be physically and emotionally draining not only for our kids, but for us too.
2. Time-outs don’t teach our kids the lesson they really should be learning.
Time-outs are often ineffective, but even if they do get our kids to stop a certain behavior, you have to ask yourself why?
Are they going to stop hitting their sibling because they are afraid of being put in time-out again and experiencing all the negative emotions that come along with it, or are they going to stop the hitting because they understand how it hurts their sibling? Odds are it’s going to be the former.
We don’t want our kids to make good choices out of fear; but because they are following values that we’ve instilled in them.
3. Time-outs send a message of rejection to our kids.
When we put in our kids in time-out, the underlying message we’re sending to them is that when they do something we don’t like, we are going to reject them. We want nothing to do with them. We want them out of our sight, and they don’t deserve our love or attention.
Of course, that’s not what you are trying to say, but that’s what it looks like to our kids who tend to take our actions and words to heart. They begin to think that they are bad.
Even worse, if we’re putting our kids in time-out for “acting out” or tantruming, we’re sending the message that we aren’t there for them when they’re struggling with feelings that they just don’t know how to process.
4. Time-outs may teach our kids to lie.
So you’ve told your kid to go sit in the corner and think about what he did. What do you really think he’s thinking about? Probably how mad he is at you, that he’s a bad person, that this isn’t fair, or he’s thinking about how he can do the same thing next time without getting caught!
Think back to when we were kids – you know it’s true!
Bottom line: Even if a time-out does keep your child from repeating an undesired behavior, this short-term benefit is negated by the long-term negative effects that time-outs can have.
Why is A Time-In Better Than a Time-Out?
Time-outs are a quick fix (and that’s if they even work – they never did for my kid). Time-ins are effective and help us in our pursuit to raise respectful, resilient kids.
You now know the negative impact that time-outs can have on our kids. But why is a time-in any better?
1. Time-ins make you both feel good!
You’re still going to experience frustration with the undesired behavior that your kid is carrying out. And you’ll still be annoyed when you have to calmly carry her kicking and screaming to her room.
But when she’s calm again, and you’re connecting with her, you’ll both feel closer to each other. You’ll feel good because you know you’ve helped her through some tough feelings, and she’ll feel supported by you.
2. Time-ins teach our kids how to regulate their emotions.
It’s important for our kids to recognize when they need to take some time to cool off. It’s a skill they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
Knowing what to do to calm themselves down will get them to a place where they can think more clearly and make better decisions; rather than acting in the heat of the moment.
3. Time-ins allow our kids a chance to learn from their mistakes.
After they’ve calmed down, we have a chance to talk through what just happened with our kids. We can help them problem solve – what can they do differently next time?
4. Time-ins give parents some time to calm down.
You’ve somehow held it together as you carried your tantruming child to their room. They screamed at you to get out, so you walked to the hallway to wait for them to become calm. During that time, you have some much needed space and begin to feel calmer, too.
How to Carry out a Time-In
Hopefully you’re convinced to get rid of time-outs, and give time-ins a try. If you are, here’s how to carry them out.
First, designate a space where your child will go to calm down. You should ask your child to help you pick the spot; They’re more likely to buy into it if they are involved in this part.
When your child is getting to the point that she needs a time-in, ask her if she would like to go to her calming spot. If she says yes, guide her to the spot or let her go on her own. Let her take as long as she needs to get to a calm place.
If she says no, offer to go with her and stay with her while she calms down.
If she still says no, it’s usually recommended to bring some of her calming things (like a blanket or a book) to her and let her calm down there.
Now, let’s think about real life for a moment.
The above sounds good, right? And it is good – if it actually goes this way.
But every kid is different. The process above does not work at all for my strong-willed son. Sure, sometimes he will say that he wants to go calm down and he wants me to come with him. That’s on a good day!
But often times, he screams “NO!!!” and tantrums like a maniac. This scares the bejesus out of my toddler and bringing some calming items to my angry-as-heck child just isn’t gonna cut it. I need to get him away from the scene ASAP.
When this happens, I calmly tell him that I am going to take him to his room to calm down. I pick him up, kicking and screaming and all, and quietly (quietly on my part, not his!) carry him up to his room.
When we get to his room, I ask him if he would like me to stay while he takes some time to calm down. He usually cries at me to “GET OUT!”.
I then calmly tell him that I will give him some time alone, and that I am right outside his door if he needs me. And believe me, it is taking every ounce of patience I have to stay calm!
I then wait quietly in the hallway until he’s done crying, kicking, and yelling. This goes on anywhere from a minute to 10 minutes.
Eventually he opens his door and whimpers, “Mommy”. I head into his room, give him a big hug, and tell him everything is going to be ok. This part feels really nice!
This next step is key when it comes to positive time-outs. Take a few minutes to reconnect with your child and talk through what happened.
Ask questions that will help your child name the emotions they were feeling, identify what caused them to feel that way, and how they might handle a similar situation next time. Things like, “You were feeling angry, huh? What made you feel upset? What do you think you can do next time that will make xyz go better?”.
If they are having trouble answering, offer them some ideas. Coach them through the conversation.
Tips for a Smooth Time-In
Here are some pointers to help you through your first few positive time-outs with your kiddo.
1. When carrying out a time-in with your child, remember the goal – to teach your child self-control and self-discipline. It is not to punish them for doing something you didn’t want them to do.
2. You’re probably going to feel anger and frustration at first. Before taking any kind of action, pause and tell yourself that making your kid feel bad isn’t going to make them behave any better. In fact, it’ll do the opposite.
3. Create a calming corner or space that your child can go to. Include things like a comfy chair, blanket or pillow, along with sensory toys, such as water beads or a liquid motion bubble timer. You might also want to include some paper and crayons – drawing can be very calming. Think about what usually calms your child and include it.
Generation Mindful makes a wonderful Time-In Toolkit – I use it for my kindergartner, and he loves it. I highly recommend!
What Ages are Positive Time-Outs Appropriate For?
I wouldn’t recommend using a positive time-out on kids who are younger than 2.5-3 years. This is because a lot of what goes into a time-in is reasoning. It’s working with our kids to help them figure out how they were feeling, what caused them to feel that way, and how to handle it next time.
Kids under 3 aren’t able to reason at that level yet. Instead, it’s better to help them calm down where they are in that moment. That could be holding them and telling them it’s going to be ok or just supportively sitting next to them while they tantrum it out.
Give time-ins a Try!
Positive parenting is hard work, but it’s work worth doing. If you begin using time-ins to help your child learn how to work through tough emotions and how to discipline themselves, then parenting them when they hit their teenage years will be a lot easier.
Time-ins, along with other positive parenting tools, strengthen the bonds we have with our kids while teaching them valuable life lessons and skills. The more you use these tools, they easier and more effective they become.
So give time-ins a try – and I mean a real try. The first few times it might feel awkward or ineffective, but after you’ve figured out the best way to implement them you’ll begin to see positive changes.