Using Time-IN Instead Of Time-Out

Many parents use “Time-Out” to punish their children, especially parents that do not want to spank/hit but feel that they must punish or “discipline” their children somehow. While I would rather have parents that are bent on using punishment with their children use time-out over spanking, time-out is still very harmful to young children when it is used as punishment. As with spanking, time-out is most often used with very young children.

The youngest child that I have witnessed with whom a time-out was being used was eighteen months old. Like being slapped, eighteen-month-olds do not understand why they are being forced to sit alone for one minute. And like spanking, it very temporarily stopped the behavior, which means multiple time-outs for toddlers that lack impulse control. This is not good and sends the wrong message to children.

Time-outs require that children sit alone, sometimes facing the wall, quietly for the amount of minutes corresponding with their age. For example, if the child is one, they sit for one minute; for a two-year-old, it’s two minutes; for a three-year-old, it’s three minutes, and so on.

What’s even worse is if the child gets up, talks, or even cries during the time-out, then their time starts completely over until he or she “successfully” completes the time-out. This can mean a five-minute or more time-out for a toddler that cannot fulfill the requirements of a time-out.  And this inability to sit quietly for a time-out often leads to the child getting spanked/hit.

As with physical punishment, I’m afraid that whoever came up with the time-out and its associated rules did not understand child development, nor did they understand our loving God. Christ never banished anyone. So why should we banish our children when we can’t deal with their behaviors?

Young children cannot sit still and quietly with nothing to do for very long. And they are not sitting there pondering why what they did was wrong. Time-outs are totally developmentally inappropriate for young children and sets them up for failure.

In fact, research shows that time-out is just as harmful to children as spanking is because being forcefully isolated activates the same areas of the brain as spanking does. We were created for human connection.  This is especially true when we’re upset about something.

My husband and I have been going through some hard times lately, and I am still grieving for my grandpa and my mother-in-law.  Sometimes I feel very alone because of everything that we’re going through and I have found that feeling isolated only makes my depression, grief, and anxiety worse.  The comfort and support from my husband and family and friends are what helps me feel better.  Isolation is truly the worst feeling ever!

My parents sometimes put me in my room during a meltdown.  It only made me feel really angry and I would scream even louder and say, “I hate you.”  I never sat and thought about my behavior during those times.  I only thought about how angry I was and how unfair they were being.

Trust me, children do not think about their behavior during time-outs.  They’re totally focused on their own feelings and being upset.

Now, I totally understand and agree that there are times when children are just having a hard time and need to be removed from the situation in order to calm down and deal with their big feelings.  This is where time-in is very helpful.

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Time-in, unlike time-out, is not punishment. To use time-in with young children, set up a “comfy corner” in the most lived in room of your house but away from the action.  Put a couple pillows and a blanket in it.  Depending on how your children cope with their big feelings, you can have a few books in there, soft music, or some paper and crayons.  Just don’t fill it up too much as the idea is to limit stimulation and help the child calm down.

There is no quiet rule, no set time for them to remain in time-in, and they can choose to have us come with them or not.  If we don’t come with them to time-in, then we sit nearby and are available to help them if they need it.

Connection and healing are the main goals for time-ins.  Young children have so many big feelings about everything and they just don’t know how to express and deal with them.  Many times when children are acting up it means that they are feeling very disconnected from us.  They need us to bring them back into our connection and help them regain their control over their bodies and feelings.  They need to be heard and validated.

If we use time-in consistently without forcing the toddler to go to his or her “comfy corner,” the toddler may begin to ask to go there when he or she senses his or her big feelings welling up. Toddlers learn that their feelings matter to their parents and to God. This is such an important step for teaching young children self-management skills because their feelings are validated and respected, and they are given appropriate choices for dealing with their feelings.

Of course, it’s perfectly okay for parents to take a few minutes to calm down if their children are having a particularly rough day.  A parent “time-out/in” is very appropriate for these types of situations so that you don’t lose it with your child. This is not punishment for either the parent or the child. All parents need a break from their children.

Just be sure to tell your children that you are feeling really upset and need a moment to calm down.  Children will appreciate knowing that sometimes Mommy and Daddy need their own time-in.

Dealing with meltdowns and upset children is never easy.  But our goal throughout parenting our children should always be maintaining a strong connection and trust with them.  Believe me, you will be grateful when your children are teenagers and feel free to come to you about anything!

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