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
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”
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).