Time-In, Not Time-Out
Tired of holding the bedroom door closed to make your
child stay in time-out? Frustrated because your child isn’t
using his time-out to calm down and think about restitution?
Perhaps it’s time to re-think the use of time-out.
Some parents use a time-out for punishment, and a power
struggle is often the result. Other parents use time-out
as a “calm-down” period for the child to regain emotional
control. In both cases, the child is usually forcibly
isolated in a boring place away from parents. Children do
often need to be removed from a situation that has got
out of hand, for example when siblings start to hit each
other. But they also need help to calm down. Instead of
being a punishment, time-out can be a calming strategy
for an upset child. Many parents call this a time-in.
The trouble with time-out
Here are five of the many concerns with time-out as it is
Adults take time-out
- Children in time-out often don’t really know why they
are there. Most adults hope the child is thinking about
what they did and how to make amends. However,
younger children may simply be confused and overwhelmed
by their strong emotions. Very often older
children are thinking how unfair the situation is and how
they’ll get revenge.
- Time-outs often lead to power struggles. Anger escalates
if the child won’t stay in the designated place and
parents have to repeatedly force her back in.
- As children get bigger and acquire more “attitude,”
parents can no longer force them to go to or stay in
time-out. Children with a spirited temperament strongly
- Giving children a time-out models power, not peace.
They learn that when someone is bothering them, it’s
better to make that person go away, rather than learning
the more realistic strategy of removing themselves
when things get intolerable.
- Time-outs only deal with the behaviour, which is often
a symptom of underlying needs or feelings. Many
children get sent repeatedly to time-out because their
underlying feelings have not been recognized and
addressed. The real problem has not been solved.
You may already take restorative time-outs yourself when
you are angry and frustrated. Maybe you go for a walk
or blow off steam playing sports. Perhaps you prefer to
listen to soothing music in your room. You can teach this
useful skill to your children, but they need to think of
time-out as a great idea, not a dreaded punishment. You
can help calm your children and focus them on their
emotions, actions and restitution, while building your parentchild
relationship in the process. Here are some hints for
trying child-directed time-in.
When a child can’t stop misbehaving, suggest she
take a time-in, removing herself from the situation either
physically or emotionally. The child decides when she’s
calm enough to return to the situation.
This strategy in not a punishment. It is designed to
teach your children appropriate ways to calm down when
they have strong feelings that they’re expressing in unacceptable
ways. Once calm, they can start thinking clearly
about the situation and find a better way to behave.
WHERE and WHAT:
The child chooses the location (a
bedroom, a hallway, etc.) and the calming activity (going for
a walk, patting the dog, shooting hoops, etc.).
An extraverted child may need someone to talk to,
whereas an introverted child may need to be alone.
The time to talk about how time-in will work is
when you are both in a good mood, not in the heat of
conflict. Observe how your child usually calms himself,
remind him what works and ask for his input. Does he want
company or solitude? Does he want to listen to music,
watch an aquarium or skip rope? Everyone benefits from
taking some slow, deep breaths. If your child needs you to
hold or rock him, don’t think of this as reinforcing misbehaviour.
In fact, your calming touch can help him regain
enough control to move his brain from emotional overload
back to logical thinking and learning.
How could you use parent time-out to help you control your
own strong emotions and stay calm? Plan on how you’ll
step back from a power struggle. Stepping back doesn’t
mean the child “wins.” It means you are mature enough to
take a self-imposed time-out and calm down. In the end,
isn’t that what you want to teach your children?
When both of you are calm, then you can return
to the trigger situation. Now your child can hear you when
you demonstrate problem solving. For example, after time-in
has brought down the level of distress, you can teach
siblings different ways to handle their fights, other than
hitting. And you can welcome the stronger connection in
This resource sheet is adapted from the original written by Judy Arnall,
a professional international award-winning parenting speaker, and trainer,
mom of five children, and author of the best-selling, Discipline Without
Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without timeout,
spanking, punishment or bribery. She specializes in “Parenting the
Digital Generation.” See also her article on the advantages and disadvantages
of time-out at www.professionalparenting.ca.
Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs 1-866-6-FRPCan www.parentsmatter.ca