As a parent, it’s easy to understand why time outs have become a popular method of discipline. But time outs may do more harm than good, and there is a better way to connect with your child and correct their unruly behavior. Time ins are an effective practice of gentle parenting and they have many benefits for your child.
Time ins are better than time outs because the guidance a parent provides during a time in helps them sort through and cope with their feelings, understand their misbehavior, and feel more connected with the parent helping them. Time outs, however, often leave children feeling shut out and leave them with no better understanding of their actions or the emotions that led to their misbehavior.
Fewer modern parents are spanking their children and consider time outs to be a gentler disciplinary alternative. They may be right; but time ins are gentler still and far more effective. Here’s everything you need to know about time ins and how to implement them in your household:
What is a “Time In” for toddlers?
A time in for toddlers begins the way a typical time out would: the parent removes the child from the situation in which they are misbehaving and transfers them to a different, quiet space. But this is where the similarities end. Rather than leaving your child to cope with their emotions alone, the parent stays with the child and talks through their behavior with them.
How do you do a time in?
Here’s a sample situation: your toddler just hit another child who took a toy away from them. You pull your toddler aside and validate their emotions by saying something like, “I understand you’re upset because your friend took your toy away from you. That was not right and it’s okay to be angry.”
Next, point out the unacceptable behavior and explain why it is wrong. Suggest a better way to handle the situation next time. You could say, “But it is never okay to hit. Hitting is wrong and you could really hurt someone. If someone takes your toy, tell them it is yours and you don’t want to share right now. Ask for it back. Or you can come find me and let me help you get your toy back.” After you feel the situation has been properly addressed and your child is calm, hug and reassure them of your love.
Time ins are effective because they help you connect with your children by showing them that you respect and validate their feelings. They also teach children better alternatives for coping with situations that lead to misbehavior, rather than merely punishing their actions with no explanation as to why they’re being punished or guidance on how to handle the situation better in the future.
How do you do a time in with a toddler having a tantrum?
Toddlers who are mid-meltdown are in no headspace to be able to listen to you during a time in and this is completely normal. A tantrum is not bad behavior in itself and your goal as a parent should be to remain calm and wait out the storm rather than punishing this normal behavior or yelling over them and joining their chaos. Sit with your wailing toddler and let them get it all out. This lets your toddler know that it’s okay to have big feelings and you are still there for them regardless.
The only time you should intervene is if your toddler hits you or begins some other dangerous behavior (such as banging their head against the wall or throwing things). Gently intervene to stop the behavior and explain why you cannot allow it. Hold space for your toddler’s feelings; but be firm about your boundaries for violence and other dangerous behavior.
A good tip for toddlers in time ins are to give them mantras to repeat (“It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not okay to hit!”, “When I’m mad, I will use my words and not my hands!”, etc.). Since they’re unable to partake in discussions as well as older children, these mantras can help them learn what is expected of them by engaging them in the conversation and teaching through repetition. You could also have your toddler repeat some deep breathing exercises to help them self-regulate.
When your toddler becomes more receptive to discussion (usually after a few minutes once the screaming has stopped and the sniffling has begun), then you can begin your time in discussion. Even if your toddler doesn’t yet understand every word you say, they look to you as a model for controlling frustration effectively and they can understand the cause-and-effect of their behavior and your redirection of it.
Although toddlers cannot verbalize it, they understand and appreciate when they are held to boundaries and treated with dignity and respect. Plus, practicing time ins with younger toddlers helps them anticipate consequences in the future and gives you practice regulating your own emotions and becoming an expert in gentle parenting methods.
Are time ins effective for older children as well?
Absolutely! Time ins for older children have the same goals as toddler time ins- behavior correction and emotional connection- but they may differ in some important ways. Time ins for toddlers will focus more on coping with overwhelming emotions and teaching right from wrong whereas time ins for older kids will center more around helping your child understand the emotional motivation for their actions and teaching better ways to handle similar situations in the future.
Older children may find mantra repetition cheesy; but if you find it helps or soothes them, you can keep it in your time in routine. Since older children are better able to verbalize their ideas better than toddlers, a time in conversation with an older child should be more two-sided. Ask your child what is bothering them, why they acted the way they did, and how they could have handled the situation better.
Kids around age seven and older usually know when they have done wrong but struggle with impulse control or coming up with better ways to act in situations that provoke misbehavior. Involving your child in the time in dialogue not only reassures them that their voice is heard, it teaches them questions they can ask themselves later on when they’re struggling with strong emotions and considering acting out. Helping your children help themselves is an important part of learning and is more effective in correcting behavior than pure punishment.
Are time outs ever okay?
The only time a short time out may be helpful is if you, the parent or caregiver, are struggling with controlling your emotions and need a few moments to calm yourself down before responding to the situation. If this is the case, relocate your child to a safe, quiet space and reassure them that you will be right back after you’ve had a moment to cool down. Find a different quiet space for yourself and scream into a pillow, take some deep breaths, or do whatever else you need to do to clear your head and self-regulate. Then return to your child and proceed with a time in as usual.
Your child may cry during your brief time out. But as long as you keep these breaks under two minutes and reassure your child of your intentions to return after calming yourself, they are less likely to feel shut out than they would in a standard time out. In fact, taking these short breaks when needed will teach your child that it is okay to have strong feelings but that it is one’s job to cope with his or her own emotions before translating them into regrettable behavior.
How are time ins relevant to Montessori learning?
One of the main pillars of Montessori learning is “respect for the child”. Time ins are consistent with this value because they allow children to express their feelings to an adult and receive explanations as to why their behavior was unacceptable. Time outs teach children that they will be shut out when they become unmanageable and can leave children feeling abandoned and confused without a discussion from their caregivers about their behavior. Time ins respect a child’s needs for emotional support while still holding firm boundaries on what behavior will or will not be tolerated.
Another important Montessori principle is “auto-education” or “teacher as guide”. This means that Montessori encourages independent learning but teachers step in to guide students back to the right path. Time ins are consistent with this principle as well because they focus on correction and learning (why a behavior is wrong, how to improve it, etc.) rather than inflicting rote punishment on a child. Children react to their environments and, when they behave inappropriately, a teacher steps in to help them understand the error and guides them back on track.
Don’t children need punishment to correct bad behavior?
This is a common misconception. Of course children need correction and need to be held to consistent behavior standards. But basic punishment can lead to resentful children who continue to misbehave sneakily because they don’t understand why their behavior is wrong or how to control their emotions to act differently.
As parents and educators, our most powerful tool for helping our children grow into smart, good-hearted adults is education. Try to view your child’s misbehavior as a learning opportunity and teach them about their emotions and how to cope with them. If you start using time ins with your child, you may be surprised by their emotional intelligence, overall behavior improvement, and their desire to connect with you during challenging times.