Dayna Sharp, LCSW
Time Outs vs. Time Ins
Mostly everyone is familiar with the practice of giving kids a "time out". This has been a popular way of controlling children's behavior for many years now. But there's a new practice on the rise that you may not have heard of, called a "time in". So what is it? And what's the difference? And when do you use which technique? This post will give you the "ins and outs"--sorry for the pun--of using these discipline strategies.
A "time out" is usually given to a child when their behavior is unacceptable and they are having trouble--or won't--stop. A time out simply removes a child from the environment that they are in. Maybe you send your child to their room, or to a couch, or to a particular rug or chair. Whatever the place, it serves as a marker that your child has done something wrong, and that they will not receive attention for engaging in that behavior. The typical guideline is that a child of at least 2 years old receive 1 minute of a time out for however old they are, for example, a 3 year old would have a 3 minute time out and a 6 year old 6 minutes.
A "time in" is different than a time out, because a time in is taken together. A time in is not about removing your attention, it's about giving more of it. A time in is an opportunity for caregivers to sit with feelings together, and to talk about the observed behaviors. For example, you might sit together in silence for a few minutes, and you might say, "I saw you hit your brother", clarify the rules, "You know that in our house, we don't hit. It's part of our house rules". A time in allows you to model your own feelings, "When you hit your brother, I feel very sad, because I love you both and don't want either of you to be hurt". Time ins also--and importantly--allow you to try to understand what feelings and thoughts are underneath the behavior. Instead of asking "Why did you...", which can feel blaming, ask "What happened?" or even better, share your observations. "I saw your eyebrows all scrunched up. You looked really angry. What happened?". And, in a time in, once you understand the feelings underneath, you can validate your child's feelings, re-state the house rules and ask them to come up with a different, more appropriate strategy to cope with their feelings. Time ins also allow you both to problem solve how your child could have prevented the problem. For example, perhaps they could have played in a different room than their sibling, or recognized their anger and asked for help instead of hitting. Time ins are about connecting with your child and teaching, modeling and reinforcing appropriate strategies.
Time Out or Time In?
I recommend using a "time in" as your go to strategy. Remember my blog post "Kids do well if they can"? In most instances, kids really want to do the right thing, and they want your positive attention. If they receive regular positive attention, and they are still acting out (as all kids will!), time ins can help your child understand the connection between their feelings, thoughts and behavior, and can also help them to gain control over their impulses and practice problem solving and coping skills (emotion regulation). Time ins can also help you to strengthen your relationship with your child, as they learn that you are there for them unconditionally and that you want to make the effort to understand them.
Important guidelines for using "time outs". If you try a time in with your child, and they are unable to connect with you--eye contact, listening, responding thoughtfully--or unable to calm down--it might help for them to take a time out for a few minutes to "sit with their feeling". Then, when they are calm, follow with a time in. This strategy works best if you can teach your child when they are calm, in advance, what they should be doing in a time out. For this purpose and more, I love the book "Anh's Anger" (see my "Some of my favorite books for kids" post).
Time outs are also useful if you need a break. There are times that parents and caregivers are pushed to their limit, and if you don't have the emotional availability to do a time in and connect with your child, it is ok to give your child a time out. In fact, this can be an opportunity to model good self care and emotional regulation skills for your kids. "You know what, I'm so frustrated right now that I need a break. I need you to go up to your room for a few minutes and then, when I'm ready, we will take a time in together". During this time, you can take a time in with yourself, figure out where you are, calm yourself down, so that you can effectively connect with your child.
Remember that your goal as a caregiver is to 1. stop the unwanted behavior as its happening and 2. help kids understand and cope with their feelings and build problem solving skills so that they don't have to act out. While time outs can stop the behavior in the short term, they can backfire, building up your child's anger in the long term, and they also don't teach your kids the skills they need to succeed.
The idea of "time in" is a relatively new one, but so important for our emotional well-being. Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can help you practice taking time in with yourself, and also help your family to practice more positive, and effective parenting techniques.
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