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Time-in: A Better Alternative to Time Out?

March 2, 2014
Original Author: Keren Perles

Time Out

When we sincerely connect with our children, they are much more likely to cooperate with us

Lisa Fuller

certified Positive Discipline Trainer

The concept of a time out has been around for a long time, but recently, a new discipline technique has come to the fore. The “time-in,” in which a parent suggests that children join them in a calming area after they misbehave, has gotten a lot of publicity in the parenting world.

But what is a time-in? And is it right for you? We’ve talked to experts on both sides of the controversy to determine the advantages and disadvantages of the technique.

Introducing… Time-in

So what is time-in? Time-in, like time out, gives children time and space to calm down after they have misbehaved. The main difference between a time-in and a time out is that a child who takes a time-in is accompanied by an adult. The adult might invite the child to a “cozy corner” or a “quiet room.” While in time-in, the parent and child may cuddle, read a book, or play a quiet game. Time-ins are not punitive, per se, although they do occur in response to a misbehavior.

“When we sincerely connect with our children, they are much more likely to cooperate with us,” explains Lisa Fuller, a certified Positive Discipline Trainer from Northern California who encourages the use of time-ins.

“Use what you know about your child to create a list of ways to connect.  Your list might include: cooking together, singing, reading stories, playing board games, taking a bath, going for a walk, watching a favorite show – build your list and watch it change as your child grows.”

Time-in Advantages

Proponents of time-ins say that punitive discipline actually feels more intuitive to us… but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Fuller encourages parents to think of a time that they were punished, and how they felt when the punishment occurred. Punishment, she says, usually leads the ‘Four R’s: Rebellion, revenge, retreat, and resentment.

“In Positive Discipline we know that children behave better when they feel better,” she explains. “So, once we shift our perspective a bit and ask, ‘what do I want my child to learn?’ we are more open to trying a time-in.”

Proponents also believe that time-ins teach children self-awareness, emotional coping skills, and unconditional love. They also give children skills that they will need as adults. “By the time most of us become adults, we have developed our own set of tools for self-calming,” says Cathy Kawakami, a Certified Positive Discipline Parent and Classroom Trainer through the Positive Discipline Association. “We may take deep breaths when we are upset, take a walk, read a book, listen to music, etc.  None of us naturally had all of those tools when we were young children; they are learned skills.”

Not only that, but society today seems geared more towards positive discipline than towards punitive discipline. “The world is in the process of great change, and all around us we are seeing more democratic relationships that value equality, dignity and mutual respect,” says Kawakami. “The leadership roles of today and for the future will require more consensus building, sharing power and working toward a common vision…Parents need to ask themselves, how will I teach my child the relationship and communication skills that they will need for the future?”

Time-in Disadvantages

Although the idea of a time-in may sound appealing, detractors point out its limitations. Dr. Thomas Phelan, author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, is hesitant to accept the concept of time-ins as effective for all situations.

“If parents try this technique and feel like it works, I have no problem with that at all,” he says. “That’s assuming that a time-in helps a child’s behavior in the future.”

The biggest issue he sees in instituting time-ins? He says that it goes along with the “little adult assumption,” or the tendency to view children as simply smaller versions of ourselves, as people who simply need information about how to behave so that they can follow the rules.

A time-in, Phelan worries, may reinforce the child’s misbehavior. In addition, his program advocates talking to your child as little as possible while dishing out the discipline, which can prevent parents from falling prey to the “talk, persuade, argue, yell, hit syndrome,” a cascade of events that all begin with the parent trying to talk to the child. That doesn’t mean that time-ins will always lead to extreme punishment, but that they should be handled with care by parents who feel confident they can remain calm even while dealing with the child’s misbehavior.

So are time-ins for you? That’s for you to decide. Both time-out and time-in advocates agree that no matter what your discipline style, it is important to stay calm while guiding your child toward making better choices.