Time-ins versus time-outs. What’s the difference? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Many adults are familiar with the concept of time-outs: the process of separating a child (often in another part of the house, if home) from a particular activity or person for the purpose of calming down, thinking about his behavior and regrouping. Time-outs withhold attention, the highest motivator for any child. Overused, time-outs can quickly become ineffective and both the parent and child can feel bad about the experience.
Time-ins are similar to time-outs in that they focus on teaching children to self-regulate their behavior. Time-ins differ because they emphasize regaining peace and balance of the situation, while the child is within close proximity to his parent. The physical closeness while calming helps to foster connection and security between the child and parent.
There are a several things parents need to be on board with to effectively use time-ins. First, they should understand what discipline is: training or teaching that reinforces desired specific behavior (self-regulation) and an ordered way of life compatible with family and societal expectations. Second, parents should embrace a new attitude—that of being child-centered—and focus on how to best address what their child needs.
The use of time-ins is well suited to any child, and can be used for a child of any age. Parents who are bonded with their child are the most effective in using time-ins because their child is attuned (emotionally connected) to them.
Parents can explain why the behavior was inappropriate after the child has calmed down, but only if they themselves are calm. Parents who are emotional cannot help their child or address a situation. To use time-ins effectively:
- Keep your child within proximity of where you are, be it in the kitchen, gardening, or on your lap, if very young.
- Give your child some “distance” by avoiding direct eye contact.
- Eliminate conversation until your child has indicated he is ready to talk about the situation.
- Gently resume eye contact and positive non-verbal cues (nodding, smiling) as you discuss the situation (misbehavior).
- Be aware of your tone.
- Think about your word choices.
- Correct without shaming.
- Be specific about your expectations.
- Get down on your child’s level if necessary; kneeling for example.
- Touch your child; a gentle hand on the shoulder.
- Offer a hug. Research shows that a 30-second hug releases oxytocin (the “bonding” hormone) and reduces stress.
Other Dos and Don’ts
- Avoid showing anger. Your child cannot cool off if you are angry. Model the behavior you want to see in your child.
- Avoid grabbing or jerking your child. Your goal is not punishment, but helping your child to calm and understand what behavior was inappropriate.
- Do not berate your child. Doing so can cause your child to “mute” you.
- Do not talk about your child’s behavior within the hearing of others, especially peers; this causes shame and public humiliation.
- Do not give your child something to do or watch while in time-in. This time is for reflection.
- Speak calmly and firmly.
- If using a place for your child to sit, use the same place and same seat.
- If your child is 5–10 years old, consider giving him something constructive to do, like a puzzle or craft. This can help him process his feelings.
- Use a timer; this indicates you are committed to the time-in. If your child is not or does not feel calm or quiet when the timer goes off (ask), set it again.
- Remain calm and gentle after the time-in is over. This encourages self-regulation, which is your goal.
Judy M. Miller is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children. She is a Certified Gottman Educator and the author of What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween.
Published September 2015