Last Updated on March 9, 2021.
I’m guilty of sending my daughter to her room on occasion. Sometimes you’re just so dang mad you just don’t want to deal with the ridiculous tantrum anymore. My mom rage sets in. And I regret it every single time. Because I know she doesn’t want to be difficult. She doesn’t like feeling angry and sad. She’s learning how to be a human being. And I feel like I’m failing her every time I don’t help her through her difficult situations. So we’ve started using time-ins because science tells us they are much more effective than time-outs.
What is a Time-In?
The concept of a “time-in” doesn’t appear to be originally coined by any one individual. As a result, the definition of a “time-in” varies. Every version I am aware of, however, has a couple common elements. First, time-ins are an alternative to time-outs. And second, they involve connecting with your child as opposed to isolating your child.
Depending on who you’re talking to, they may suggest additional criteria, such as the time-in occurring in a calming corner (or some other defined space), they may involve a grounding technique or calming strategy, or they may have a specific routine.
What are the differences between a Time-In and Time-Out?
There’s one main difference between a time-in and a time-out. When a child is sent to a time-out, they are isolated. They are sent to their room, a time-out chair, or some other space where they are left to deal with their feelings. On the other hand, a time-in involves the parent and the child taking a break together.
Why are Time-Ins better than Time-Outs?
There are a number of reasons you should try time-ins instead of time-outs. Here are the big reasons time-ins work better:
Avoids feelings of abandonment and isolation
At the risk of sounding dramatic, time-outs are essentially abandoning your kids when they need you the most. Tantrums are the symptom of kids not knowing how to process their big feelings. And make no mistake, they are big feelings, even if it doesn’t seem important to you.
My youngest loses it whenever she doesn’t get the “red” items in our house (bowls, cups, toothbrushes, etc). She loves red SO much, that when she’s denied the red items, she feels like she may burst with disappointment and anger. Yes, it seems silly to adults, but to little kids, these things are important.
So when you send them to sit by themselves (even for a minute or two), your child feels isolated and abandoned.
Provides an opportunity to practice coping skills
Coping skills are learned. Calming strategies take practice. If your child is sent off by themselves, they have no one to coach them through these techniquest. As a parent, it’s our responsibility to help them develop grounding techniques to use in their toughest moments. And we can only do that if we are there with them during those tough moments.
Strengthens the parent/child bond
Coping together builds trust. It fosters a strong, lasting bond between the parent and the child. You’ll get to know eachother better, learn how to communicate effectively, and understand how to support each other.
Demonstrates unconditional love
Sending your child off to deal with their feelings alone may make them feel like your love is conditional. You only want to be around them when they are behaving according to your standards. Extending that olive branch during arguments and fights shows them exactly what unconditional love looks like.
Encourage teamwork instead of further power struggles
When you send a child into a time-out, you’re actually fueling further power struggles. You’re creating a barrier between the two of you. You’re drawing a line. On the other hand, if you engage and connect during a power struggle, you’re fostering an environment of compromise and teamwork.
Do Time-Ins Work?
The only factor that really matters is connection. If you’re using a time-in as an opportunity to connect with your child, you’ll find it’s more effective than a time-out. If you’re just going through the motions and sitting next to your child, it’s not going to have the desired effect. You can’t sit your child at the counter while you go about doing dishes and call that a “time-in”. A time-in is an opportunity to empathize and commiserate with your child. You can validate their feelings. You can practice calming strategies together. It’s an opportunity for them to see that their feelings matter and that their opinions are valued.
It’s also an opportunity to practice communication skills, where two people have differing opinions and desires. Children can learn about compromise and negotiation. The benefits of a time-in (where the main goal is connecting) are unlimited.
Other Alternatives to a Time-Out
If time-ins don’t sound like your thing, thats ok! There are other ways to deal with the epic power struggles that come with childhood. Here are a few strategies that have worked really well for us.
Delay Your Reaction
There’s a popular saying among parenting coaches and psychologists that goes “An escalated parent cannot de-escalate a child.” And it’s true. When your temper is flaring, it’s difficult for you to manage an escalated situation.
So a great strategy is to simply walk away. Don’t address or acknowledge the situation until you’re calmed yourself down. This might be minutes, if you’re really good at grounding yourself. Or it could be later in the day (oftentimes bedtime is a popular time to revisit the day’s challenges).
Change the Environment
My mother-in-law uses this strategy masterfully. She says if your little one is struggling, take them outside or put them in water. This change in environment almost always does the trick. Nature and water are both very calming, therapeutic almost.
If water and nature aren’t an option, just changing rooms might be a helpful distraction.
Offer a Choice
Oftentimes tantrums and power struggles are the result of your child feeling powerless. They want control over their lives. When you’re considering a “time-out,” instead offer two choices to give your child a little bit of power.
Make sure the choices are both equally acceptable to you. In other words, they decide, and you are fine either way. It might sound like this: “I realize you want to use the red truck, but your sister has the red truck. We can keep playing with trucks and you can use the blue truck, OR, you can switch activities and you can have the red Play Doh.”
Use Calming Toys
There are plenty of toys on the market designed to calm kids’ tantrums, or you can make your own sensory toys from pinterest tutorials. I personally really like kinetic sand. Letting it run through your fingers can be therapeutic. If you’re looking for an easy DIY, I really like these sensory bottles from rhythmsofplay.com.
When your child is having a hard time, switch activities to these calming toys. You may find that’s all you need to prevent a total meltdown.
Use the “Do-Over”
The “Do-Over” is one of my favorite positive parenting tools. Kids are learning to be human. They make mistakes. The “Do-Over” gives them an opportunity to stop, take a breath, and start over. You’ll be surprised how often kids reconsider their behavior and respond in a better way when you give them a little grace.
It’s important to note that this is not a “free pass” to behave poorly. Only give one Do-Over, and if you want to use this tool, set the expectations ahead of time (when things are calm).
Turn On The Music
Use music as a distraction. It’s another way to change the environment and appeal to your child’s sense. It can also offer your child an opportunity to express themselves. And movement has a plethora of benefits for your growing children. It might sound like this: “It seems like you’re feeling frustrated with Duplos. Let’s change up our day and have a 2-song dance party. Want to dance and sing with me?”
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Quick Tips for Managing Misbehavior
- Set boundaries with your kids to avoid power struggles
- Be firm, but loving during conversations
- Practice grounding techniques
- Foster an environment of intrinsic motivation to avoid power struggles
- Avoid using shame and blame during power struggles
- Use effective consequences when appropriate
- Attend this free 60 minute Positive Parenting Solutions webinar
Do you have tips for making time-ins work? Share them in the comments below!