What’s inside this article: A comparative look at time ins versus time outs, information about why children misbehave, and how to teach skills that help them behave better. Lastly, tips and tricks for successfully using time-ins instead of time outs.
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Time-outs are an age-old discipline strategy used by parents. It’s been around for generations and it’s the go-to choice for many parents when children misbehave.
Time-ins, on the other hand, are a newer concept that’s been gaining traction with parents who want to use an authoritative, positive approach to discipline.
Time-In vs Time-Out
You may be wondering what the difference is, and what technique you should use with your own child.
We are going to take a look at time-out vs time–in so you can make that choice.
It’s important to understand the difference between time outs and time ins. But, you also need to know how to begin implementing time ins in your own home successfully.
Otherwise, the difference won’t be clear to your child.
Time-out involves removing your child from a situation when they misbehave. Typically, they are moved to a corner or a chair where they must sit quietly for a predetermined period of time.
Some parents require this child to face the wall or place their forehead against the wall during their time out, while other parents have an “area” for time out, or use the child’s bedroom.
However, regardless of how you use time out, the theme is the same – during a timeout, your child is isolated from the activity and the environment where the misbehavior occurred and usually don’t receive any attention from their parent/caregiver either.
The goal of a time-out is to punish your child for their poor behavior in order to stop them from behaving that way now and in the future.
Time-in, on the other hand, involves guiding your child to a safe space where you can use co-regulation strategies and emotion coaching to help them calm their bodies and process their emotions.
This helps children develop emotional intelligence, making them more in tune with their strong emotions.
When children are in tune with their bodies and their feelings, they can respond to situations, rather than react with inappropriate behavior.
Time-ins make children feel safe and connected so they can problem solve and learn from their mistakes.
Basically – instead of punishing a child for their behavior, time ins teach children skills that help them navigate challenging situations more appropriately.
Comparison of Time-in and Time-Out
- Time to calm down and learn from mistakes.
- You feel good about yourself afterward.
- Creates connection and understanding between parents and children.
- Encourages child-caregiver attachment
- Punishment for being bad or behaving badly.
- You feel bad (guilty) afterward
- Creates anger and hurt feelings between parents and children.
- Isolates the child from their caregiver
On their own, children lack the ability to reshape their behavior; they need assistance to help them regulate their emotions and learn the skills to get their needs met in healthy, appropriate ways.
Misbehavior is a Symptom of Lagging Skills
This is a different way of thinking about things for a lot of parents but research supports this idea and shifting to this type of thinking helps kids and parents.
This concept was first introduced to me Dr. Stuart Ablon, founder of Think Kids.
Your child doesn’t behave poorly because they want to, or because they enjoy getting in trouble.
Poor behavior is actually because they just lack the skills required to behave better.
Stuart Ablon’s key phrase when describing this is “Kids do well if they can”
- they scream when they want something because they lack the communication skills to express their needs
- or, they talk back and refused to comply with adult imposed demands because they lack the cognitive flexibility to shift their thinking.
- they keep jumping on the sofa after being told to stop because they lack the impulse control required to stop themselves.
These are just some basic examples but hopefully, you can understand the point behind it.
If your child could express their needs appropriately, they would. If your child could control their impulses, they would.
When means if your child could behave then they would – so, giving them a time out isn’t going to help prevent the behavior from re-occuring.
Most of these “lagging skills” fall in the area of executive functions. Things like problem-solving skills, impulse control, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, organization, stress tolerance, etc.
Developing Lagging Skills with Time-Ins
Try to stop seeing inappropriate behavior as something you need to punish your child for and make them stop, and instead see it as an indication that there is a skill they need to be taught.
Time-Ins can become an effective way for you to teach these skills to your child. As you move away from difficult situations to co-regulate, you are helping them develop emotional regulation, problem-solving, impulse control.
You can talk about trying things in a different way, returning to a stressful situation after calming. This builds stress tolerance and flexibility.
It’s only through repeated practice that your child will develop and master a skill.
Ditching time-outs for time-ins opens up many more valuable teaching moments for your family.
How to Implement Time-Ins
To begin implementing time-in, you must first create a calm down space in your home to use consistently.
Then, you and your child should say good-bye to time-outs and spend time getting comfortable in your new calming space, using a positive approach to familiarize them with it.
Note: I highly recommend you purchase the Time-In Toolkit. It’s really going to provide you with everything you need to begin teaching your child about understanding and learning from their feelings.
It’s discussed in more detail here.
Create Your Time-In Plan
You can either create a time-in plan with your child or on your own, depending on your child’s age and abilities.
However, if you make it on your own, make sure you go over the plan with your child first. They need to know what to expect.
This plan just outlines how and when you and any other caregivers are going to implement a time-in.
Time-ins are not for when your child is having a full-blown meltdown.
They are for times when your child is showing early signs of distress and dysregulation. They should be used early to bring your child back to feeling calm and preventing dangerous outbursts.
Your time-in plan should be short and simple and outline a consistent method for implementing time-in.
Example Time-In Plan:
When my child starts to whine or act defiant I will kindly, but firmly set limits and repeat expectations. If the behavior stops, I will praise them for making a good choice and move on.
If the behavior continues, we will go to the calm down corner for a time-in. I will co-regulate with my child by using our calm down strategies together.
Then we will return to the activity/place/demand and try again.
Basically what this means is: I’m going to say to my child “It looks like you’re getting frustrated, let’s take a time-in together so we can calm our bodies.” Then, you’ll go to the calm down corner, set a timer for 5 minutes, and do a calming activity.
Choose an activity that is calming for your child. It could be coloring, stretching, breathing exercises, squeezing a stress ball, etc.
The Time-In Toolkit includes lots of different calming activities that you can use.
Tips for Successful Time-Ins
When you begin something new, such as time-ins with your child, it’s common to be met with some resistance.
Children, naturally, will test their limits and see if you’ll revert back to your old ways (especially if you were very punitive in the past).
Here are some tips to make your time-ins more successful.
- Keep yourself well-regulated. It’s important to be aware of your own emotions, body language, tone of voice, etc. You need to stay calm while addressing your child’s behavior. Take a few deep breaths and do a quick scan of your body before beginning the time-in plan with your child. If this is hard for you: read these tips.
- Model the tools yourself. You can’t just demand your child use the calm down corner to calm down and expect it to work. You need to model this behavior and show your child that everybody has big feelings, it’s normal, but we can choose how we respond to those feelings.
- Clear Limits and Expectations. There should be no ambiguity when it comes to what is expected behavior. You need to set very clear limits and expectations. For example, it can’t be okay to eat on the sofa one day, but then not okay the next day. You must respond the same way to the same behavior every time it occurs.
- Build Rituals and Routines. Children flourish when their lives are consistent and highly predictable. Just as the implementation of time-ins should be consistent, the rest of their lives need to be, too. Creating routines and rituals builds the predictability that children need. You can learn other ways to create this structure here.
- Don’t talk, lecture, punish during time-ins. When your child is in a heightened emotional state, they aren’t able to respond to reasoning or learn from their actions at the moment. Keep talking to a minimum and focus on calming not disciplining. When everyone is calm and regulated later, you can sit down and have a conversation with your child about what they could do differently next time.
- Practice your calming strategies. Have you ever heard the saying “you can’t teach someone how to swim when they’re drowning”? Well – you also can’t teach a child how to calm down when they’re dysregulated. You need to practice your calming strategies while they’re calm. Spend 5-10 minutes with your child in the calm down corner practicing the different strategies while your child is calm to familiarize them with the techniques you want them to use.
- Consistency Among Caregivers. Every adult implementing time ins with your child should use the exact same language – which is why a written plan is so important. Before you know it, your own reaction to your child’s behavior will be so predictable to your child that the structure of your response will actually help them calm down even faster.
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