Time-Ins Versus Time-Outs


More HugsMy last post was about entitlement, fully embracing that you have the right to parent your child. Entitlement means having the confidence to step up to all of the responsibilities and risks associated with parenting. This includes handling discipline—the training or teaching that reinforces the desired specific behavior (self-regulation) and ordered way of life compatible with family and societal expectations.

When discussing effective discipline methods in class we talk about time-ins versus time-outs. Many adults are familiar with the concept of time-outs—separating the child (withholding attention, the highest motivator for any child) from their parents for the purpose of calming down, thinking about their behavior and regrouping.  Overused, time-outs can quickly become ineffective and both the parent and child can feel badly about the experience.

The use of time-ins is better suited to the child who has been adopted because they may not be fully attached to their adoptive parents and/or have anxiety about being separated (especially for children who have “come from hard places” or been institutionalized). Time-ins, similar to time-outs, focus on teaching the child to self-regulate their behavior. However, time-ins focus on regaining peace and balance of the situation while within close proximity to their parent. And this physical closeness while calming helps to foster connection and security between the child and parent.

The parent can explain why the behavior was inappropriate after the child has calmed down, but only if they themselves are calm. A parent who is emotional cannot help their child or address situation. To use time-ins effectively, follow these tips:

  • Keep your child within proximity of where you are, be it in the kitchen, gardening, etc.
  • Give your child some “distance” by avoiding direct eye contact.
  • Eliminate conversation until your child has indicated they are ready to talk about the situation.
  • Gently resume eye contact and positive non-verbal cues (nodding, smiling) as you discuss the situation.
    • Be aware of your tone.
    • Think about your word choices.
    • Correct without shaming.
    • Be specific about your expectations.
  • Get down on your child’s level if necessary, kneeling for example.
  • Touch your child, place a hand on their shoulder.
  • Offer a hug. Research shows that a thirty-second hug releases oxytocin—the “bonding” hormone. Hugs have additional  emotional and physical benefits as well, like stress reduction.

Food for Thought: Do you use time-ins with your child? How often do you hug your child? Do you begin the day with hugs?

~ Photo by EDV Media Director

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Beki An Sciacca April 8, 2012 at 1:19 am

Judy, Thanks for the very articulate description of time-ins. For sure (IMO), they are preferable over time-outs with adopted & foster children. And, I propose that they are also the “technique” of choice for all children, if our goal is to help our kiddos develop the ability to self-regulate. All “misbehavior” is in a sense a result some level of dysregulation, and time-ins are such an elegant way to support learning how to return to a regulated state,
In a way, I don’t even like calling time-ins a technique…more like training wheels to help us as we shift into a new paradigm of connective parenting, in which relationship is the driver for everything.
Thanks again for the work you’re doing!


Judy April 8, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hi Beki,
I like the analogy of training wheels. And I agree with you–that connective parenting (which I also teach) is a key driver for everything.


Ellen March 17, 2012 at 8:35 am

Huge improvements quickly after starting time-ins, after years of tantrums and defiance. I am a believer. Our daughters were afraid of abandonment and even small timeouts seemed like rejection to them. Our biological sons responded to timeouts very well as they did not fear abandonment. I wish we learned this yesrs ago.


Judy March 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Time-ins are incredibly effective in so many ways. Thanks for sharing, Ellen.


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