Time out or time in?

Bundoo Child Psychologist
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Time out or time in?

How do you discipline your child? Does time-out work? Have you ever tried or heard of time-in? Many parents look for ways to get the message across their little one for misbehaving and have heard of time-out from friends, pediatrician, and family members. Recently time-in is gaining lots of coverage as a new and more social and emotionally savvy way of reaching our kids when trouble hits. Let me help you figure out if time-out or time-in works best for you and your family!

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  1. Great topic! See you then!

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  2. What is time-in?

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    1. Time-in is the opposite of time-out in that you are there with your child after they have done something you find to be incorrect. Instead of sending them off to their room or designated time out zone, you talk to them about what happened, how they can do it better, and also try to process the emotions that took place just then. It is a way of getting more attuned to your child’s thoughts and feelings without them feeling like you can’t handle their behavior and need to send them off to another area. Obviously, the amount of talking you will do will vary on your child and their age. So with a 3 year old, you can be brief but at their level- what happened, were you mad? why? how do you think the other person felt? how can you do it differently? The same questions would be asked to an older child and perhaps the discussion would be a little bit deeper. I am not saying that giving the child the space to cool down and take a breather is bad. I think that it’s great, but time-out for what it is supposed to be, has been misconstrued and can be a total backfire, turn into power struggle, or shameful attack on the child’s self-esteem and sense of self.

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  3. I have a question about when to use time out (and maybe time in but I am not familiar with that). If a child misbehaves to get out of doing something, should you discipline with time out or continue with your request to make them comply? I wonder if my oldest (5) misbehaves because time out is better than doing homework, getting dressed, etc.

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    1. I think the key here is your saying “request” asking permission or asking the child to do something leaves them the opportunity to say no and not comply. Using time out in these instances can create a power struggle between parent and child and I would try to reserve time out (if you will continue to use it) for very severe behaviors, for moments when you see your child needs a break from whatever is going on around them (thereby taking away the negative connotation of time out, but more about taking a breather- which is what it was meant to be in the first place). In the situations that you’ve mentioned above- getting dressed or doing homework, what’s going on in the background? is your 5-year-old not completing his chores/hw, because he is being distracted? has trouble following instructions? is tired? is trying to get your attention because you are busy with other things/family members and he has learned this is a quick although negative way of getting your attention? Maybe if we can problem solve some of the environmental issues, your child may be more likely to do as told?

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  4. I’m intrigued! What is time-in, and how is it different from time-out? What are the “rules” to using either method? We use time-out, but I’m not sure it works best for us. It’s definitely a better tool for us than spanking because my son doesn’t bat an eye at a spanking. Time-out to him is like torture, though. He screams and cries at the mention of time-out, which then gets him time-out where the screaming and tears just continue. I don’t know that it’s the most effective method for our family. He’s 3.5yo and has a 14mo sister.

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    1. Your son’s reaction is pretty typical of some kids who are sent to time-out. These kids tend to feel like parental love and acceptance are taken away from them when they are sent to time -out, hence feeling like you mentioned “torture”. Punishing him for crying and screaming about time-out is just a double whammy, and I would refrain from punishing him for expressing his emotions to you. I also would see how you have described time-out to be, what purpose does it have? How is your tone (or whoever puts him in time-out)? What behaviors deserve time-out or is it the type of punishment you use for everything?

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      1. When we ask why he’s crying, he usually says, “you hurt my feelings.” It’s a little heartbreaking. But we usually use time-out as a breather for him (and for us), and he gets a warning first, which is usually when the crying starts. And he knows after he calms down in time-out, we talk about what happened and why he’s in time-out and what to do or not to do next time. So I guess we kind of use a combo of time-out and time-in. His time-out spot is literally 5 ft. away from me, so we’re not sending him off to his room or somewhere to be alone. As far as tone and behaviors that deserve time-out go, I think I’m pretty consistent and I try really hard to be calm through it. My husband isn’t always the most consistent, but I’m the one who is with the kids most of the time, and I’m the one who disciplines the most.

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        1. I think maybe talking it through then- ” time out isnt to hurt your feelings, what’s going on? I think you need some time to calm down so you can go back to doing x,y,z.” I think also for us as parents is trying to catch them before they get out of control and it’s harder for them to take a step back and gain control.

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        2. also, does he go to school? do they use time-out there? Sometimes our kids pick up meanings of things from other people and then apply to the home. So if in school they use time-out and say “billy goes to time out because he behaves badly or he’s a bad boy”, for example, he may think – jeez my parents think I’m terrible! Time out is supposed to be a time away from any type of reinforcement. No talking, no attention, no eye contact from the parent to the child, and it’s supposed to be one minute per year of the child’s age. Time in is talking things through and letting the child know that no matter what happens, you are there to help them get past the hard moments and learn from the mistakes. I think it’s awesome that you try to remain calm, it’s hard especially when he’s crying and you have a 14 month old too.

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  5. Hello! I am so excited to see interest in this topic with posts submitted early on! Dr. Dan Seigel is one of the psychiatrists at the forefront of pediatric psychiatry, mindfulness, and what he calls mindsight. He’s written several books on the topic of child development and specifically brain development. His newest book is called No Drama Discipline and he talks extensively on the topic of time out vs time in. So to quote him, time -in means this: is to help kids feel more loved and nurtured — even when they’ve misbehaved — thereby making life and discipline less difficult for parents. Emotional competencies emerge from being present with children, especially during times of distress as supported by the research on the importance of promoting reflection and conversation on internal emotional states with children. Having kids reflect on and talk about their emotions, what we are calling “time-in,” has been demonstrated in a wide range of studies to support the important development of emotion understanding. We therefore encourage parents to comfort and soothe and connect with their children during times of distress, and to reflect afterwards on their inner experience as a “time-in” with reflective dialogue, rather than punitively isolating them in a moment of anger and without any opportunity for reflection and connection.

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