What is the difference between a time out and time in? Is one better than the other?
Sometimes positive discipline tools can seem similar to the traditional discipline tactics. Often people say it’s just semantics. What sets the positive tools apart from punitive discipline is not only the way in which they are presented to the child but also the intent (non punitive) and aim of the parents in using the tools.
Let’s look at the differences between time out and time in:
The traditional time out is when a child is told to go somewhere (like a chair or facing a wall), alone for a determined number of minutes. Often parents are told to withhold attention and ignore any cries or requests from the child when using a time out.
Although the time out tactic can potentially prevent a behavior from occurring in the moment it can also make children feel abandoned, rejected, frightened and confused. Time outs are vastly popular and are preferred to harsher traditional discipline tactics like spanking but it does not actually help children learn to regulate their emotions or help them learn moral values like right from wrong. Often, time outs lead to more power struggles.
Some clues that time out is not actually working:
*You feel the need to place your child in time out daily, sometimes hourly.
*When the child is in time out she repeatedly asks when she can get up.
*When the child is running away at the mention or threat of time out.
* You feel the need to place your child in time out for every thing they are dong “wrong”.
*When you find yourself using time out for the same offense over and over again.
*You get angrier and angrier as you struggle to get your child to quiet down so you can start the timer.
There are many alternatives to Time Out and one of these alternatives is the Time IN:
The Positive parenting tool called time IN or positive time out is when a child that is having a difficult moment is kindly invited to sit somewhere, near by a care giver to express their feelings and eventually cool down.
During the time in, parents are encouraged to empathize with the child’s feelings and often just quiet connection is all that is needed until the storm has passed. It doesn’t mean that you must let your child continue with a behavior that is inappropriate. The time in gives you the opportunity to really connect and then address whatever change needs to be made.
Some of the reasons Time IN or positive time out works:
*children are likely to feel that their needs are being considered
*there can be connection between parent and child before a correction is presented
*children are given time to properly process a range of feelings
*parents don’t feel out of control or create a power struggle to keep child in the time out.
*children don’t feel isolated, shamed or scared
*It gives parent and children an opportunity to talk about the real issue at hand
Here is an example of how Time In can work:
Recently at the swimming pool, one of the children I was looking after decided to do some diving in an area of the pool that was very shallow. After the first time I observed this asked kindly that the child find either a new swim move to do in that section or choose a deeper section in which to dive. Excited and bounding with energy, the child worked on some new moves for a few minutes and then she proceeded to dive again in the shallow area.
The excitement of the pool and the urge to dive was making it really difficult for the child to follow the pool safety rules. I told her calmly we would be stepping out of the pool together so we could chat. I acknowledged she was having lots of fun and let her know she could return to the pool soon and extended a hand so we could walk together.
We sat at the edge of the pool for about a minute. First I asked if she was having fun and she told me about her favorite parts of the swimming pool. Then I asked if she knew why we were taking a little break. “Because I was diving in the small water”. I told her I cared about her and her health and that diving in the shallow water could really harm her. She asked if she could try again, this time where the water was right for diving. We quickly talked about the water safety rules and she promised to follow them this time around. We were able to enjoy the pool for the rest of the afternoon and there was no more diving in the shallow water.
Might the result have been the same if I had told the child to “Get out of the pool and sit on that chair for 5 minutes” – well maybe, but certainly nobody would feel very good about it.
It can certainly be difficult and even annoying to parent during times when children are being defiant, testing limits, pushing our buttons and being challenging. Sure there are times when taking a break from each other will be advisable. The aim of a time out though doesn’t have to be to create struggle, it can really be a time for everyone to cool off, regroup and reconnect.
Do you use time outs? time ins? a mix of both?
Peace & Be Well,
My book 12 Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperatives Kids is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle. The book focuses on problem solving and cooperative learning and how to maintain a positive, respectful and connected relationship with your child.
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*Matt’s name has been changed.