Time Out vs. Time In: What’s the difference?

Time Out vs. Time In: What’s the difference?

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.

time in and time out for kids

Just know that timeouts do 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.

 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.

timeouts or time in

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.positive parenting book

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 be a time for everyone to cool off, regroup and reconnect.

What do you think is best for your family, time out, time in or a mix of both?

Would you like to learn other alternatives to time out that are effective?

12 Alternatives to Time Out: Connected Discipline Tools for Raising Cooperatives Kids is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

In this book you can discover effective alternatives to time out, more step by step guidance on doing time ins and more.

Quick yet meaningful change

Check out what Allyson had to say about the book:

“I have been struggling with my toddler and time outs do not work, only make us both more upset and frustrated and behavior has not been changing. This book explains things in a very understandable and practical way. I’m already implementing the concepts and seeing a change. Thank you!”  -Allyson 

parenting toddlers discipline online class

“This is THE parenting class to take if  you have a toddler!”

The early years with our children are often full of difficult and tiring moments. Once I started focusing on really understanding and connecting with my children things got so much easier. I want to share that with you. In the online classroom you can get loads of tools, tips and support on implementing positive parenting tools.

I will personally walk you through many proven positive discipline tools, answer your questions and help you get back to feeling calm and confident when any kind of misbehavior shows up.

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

77 Responses to Time Out vs. Time In: What’s the difference?

  1. I have never and will never use time outs. I’d even go so far as to say they make me angry! My children range from age 5 to 21 and the method I’ve always used and found to be very effective has been Time in, although that’s not what we call it. Taking the child, sitting him/her on my lap (not the 21 year old!) cuddling them and talking with them about it. Usually just having a physical connection with me is enough to change their behaviour. I found the more you put in when they’re under 3, the less you have to do as they get older. They just ‘get’ that they are cared about and respected and therefore don’t need to act out to get attention. My friends and family, on the otherhand, that do use time out, seem to need to use it more and more frequently and yet their children’s behaviour seems to get worse and worse!
    My theory has always been, love on a physical or emotional level is always what a child needs and it works for me.

  2. Thanks Angie for sharing your experience, I think it’s great for families to hear about other families and their experience with positive approaches to parenting and how it has worked for them!

  3. We did not use time-out when our son was very little, but we do use it now–he’s 7. I can’t see time-in as a feasible replacement because we are disciplining him for doing one or more of these things:
    a) persistently interfering with something that really needs to get done now
    b) repeatedly interrupting adult conversation by talking loudly about an unrelated subject and then shrieking, “YOU’RE INTERRUPTING!!!” if anyone attempts to resume speaking
    c) being rude and disrespectful to an extent that really hurts parental feelings.
    When he is behaving like this, we cannot get him to cooperate with a conversation like yours at the pool; he will change the subject, act silly, insult us, and/or pull away to resume the misbehavior or any other aggravating thing he can find to do. At other times he is quite a pleasant, articulate child, but he gets into these strange moods and seems to need a “reset” that can be obtained only from time-out, so far as we’ve discovered.

    He often resists going to time-out, so we use the policy that the time doesn’t begin until he’s there and we’ll add 5 minutes every time he protests or comes out. I DON’T LIKE DOING THIS because it feels so negative, but once he finally cooperates he does come out humbled and ready to try again at behaving reasonably.

    We’ve had some success with preventing these bad spells by taking care to give him a chance to talk and show him that his ideas are heard; being careful that he gets enough food, water, and rest; and anticipating that he’s likely to spin out of control as a special event comes to an end. But once the awful behavior starts, it seems the only way to stop it is a hard consequence, either time-out or taking away TV time or (when relevant) the object he is misusing.

    We feel that we as parents need the time-out too because we feel so angry about his behavior that we are not ready to speak calmly and pleasantly with him for a while.

    If you have any suggestions for more positive tactics with a 7-year-old, I’d love to hear them! I read the alternatives you linked, but those are for toddlers.

  4. Becca – I hear you. 7 is a challenging age. All three instances that you describe sound like misguided efforts to get your attention. A few positive discipline tools for dealing with that are – like you already do, time to cool off, sounds just like time out but over time the intent would be that you can ask “would cooling off on your own be helpful for you right now?” – another way is to be proactive, with the things that must be done, make sure he is aware, give him a bit of a time line (not that you have to justify everything, more so that he is aware, “i will be busy for the next half hour” Trust him to figure something out to do in that time or if needed you can add “what is YOUR plan for the next half hour” and another tool is involvement. seeing whatever part of your task your son may want to help with. this inspired me to write up a post on the undue attention and alternatives for the older children so I will post it as soon as I get a chance!
    thank you for sharing your experience!

  5. […] Time Out vs. Time In: What’s the Difference?  {Positive Parenting Connection via Hobo Mama} What I dislike the most about time-out is the unnecessary separation/isolation.  We all need to cool off, but we should teach our children how by modeling with them. […]

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  6. Time-outs can be so tempting but, like you, I’ve found that time-ins are often so much more useful. We are most likely to have fighting (for attention) when my husband and I are trying to talk with each other. When we’re all around we’ll often use the ‘family time in’ and sit down together. One or the other of my children usually resists but it’s a little like a sit-down strike. My husband and I just sit down and wait for our children to join us. We’re not going anywhere else until they do. And, hey, if they do run off and leave us totally alone? That’s probably what we wanted in the first place anyway.

  7. Oh I love that idea about finally being alone 😉 we use family time-ins as well!

  8. Oh I love that idea about finally being alone 😉 we use family time-ins as well!

  9. […] to “time out” as I’m not really a fan of the concept. One alternative, “time in,” seemed too touchy-feely for me at first, but at the same time I get it: children act out to […]

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  10. I am from mexico, i’ve recently discovered positive parenting, I bought your book, im trying to change, I was the kind of mother who says …. do as I say because I am in charge, because I say so, because I am your mother and the more I pushed them the worst the result, I ended up yealling, punishing, threatening, and spanking, I was trying to break up their will… in only 3 weeks that i’ve been “practicing” PP … well kind of … I am still working on me a lot, I can see its really working, even teachers in school can see a change specially in my son JP 6, sometimes I receive answers I’d never heard before like, “ok mom”, “yes mom”, I have anothe boy LM 9 and a girl MJ of 3, everything is flowing better now, I’ve talked about your book and your blog to all my friends.
    But there is a time of the day when I dont know what to do or how to approach to my middle son JP of 6 years a very stong-willing boy because I know he is kind of challenging me, and the worst thing is that my little girl is starting to do the same and that time is mealtime, in Mexico we have “lunch” with the family at 2:00 pm when they come back from school and that is his worst time for JP and even when I try to prevent the explosion cooking his favorite meal, start a conversation about the school, how was their day and give him a little bit more of the attention I feel he is trying to get, he “sits” on the table and starts saying silly things or calling names to his brother LM 9 (with the one I’ve always had a hard time “making” him to eat and my attention “was” always on him because he eats just a few things and in a very little portion, he is very thin, etc.etc. I think I finally broke that circle with him, taking the attention “from the food” to the kids) but I think that could be the reason his brother JP who eats everything that gets to his hands since a baby is trying to get my attention but I don’t know what else to say or do to prevent those things to happen because he starts sitting with his feet on the table, eats with his hands, I’ve tried asking him to behave or leave upstairs, tried to make mealtime fun, I’ve tried ignoring the bad behavior and focusing on the conversation, what has worked because he finishes and ask for permission to leave, the mayor problem that I see is that he is not getting the message that i am trying to send that he is as important as his brother not only during mealtime, and his little sister follows him a lot so now she is standing up and fooling around during lunch just like his brother, sometimes they end up playing running around the table !!!! And I can’t ignore, and LM is looking at me like saying “are you going to do something mom ??” So I have to continuously ask JP and MJ to sit down, stop eating like that because that behavior is not permitted on the table, And when I say we don’t talk to eachother like that or we don’t eat like that in this family he answers “yes we do” and continues with the behavior, so I always end up losing it and sitting MJ 3 on her chair who ends up in tears, and that has been the hardest time for me. Sometimes when his father gets on time to eat with us things flow easier because JP is deeply conected with him, and even when I feel I am connecting better with him now, he comes to my arms to receive a hug and a kiss, he is finishing homework on time, his answering back less, he is WANTING to cooperate a little more, he is not DEAF MOM anymore, but at this time of the day I don’t know what to do !!!!!!! Please help meeeee !!!

  11. We used time out with my daughter and it was a positive thing for us. She is very much an introvert. When she is stressed or overwhelmed she needs a break from people. It was a time for her to refocus. It was never done in a negative way, we just told her she needed to stop and sit quietly. This reduced her stress/ anxiety level which was what was behind the bad behavior to begin with. I’m sure time in is great for a lot of kids, but all kids are different and for introverts I believe it could add more stress.

  12. Meghan, thank you for sharing your experience with using time outs as a way to pause and cool off. Interestingly enough, my introverted child is the one that benefits the most from time in here. I think our different children are a really good example of how each family or parent-child pair benefits from trying out and figuring out what works best for them since we are all so unique. I appreciate you sharing what works for you and for stopping by! Wishing you well.

  13. hi erika that’s great that they’re responding so well in just 3 weeks! it’s a big step just to realize you need to change something & think how well they could be doing in 3 months, or even 3 years! just stick with it & try to be positive about it. it does sound stressful but if he’s a headstrong 6 yr old it’s going to take more than 3 wks of positive parenting to.. for lack of a better word.. ”erase” the 6 years of negative parenting. i know it’s hard to change a parenting style esp at at those ages because i’m sure the kids are a little confused about why mommy is being this way lately & i’m sure they’re testing you because of it. it’s likely because it’s so different & a good change..so they need to be confident you are going to KEEP up with the PP & not revert back to the negative. they need to feel secure in the positive attention so he could be testing how far he can push to see if you really do stick to the new PP style or get frustrated go back to yelling, spanking etc.. so try to avoid that at all costs.
    also i’m guessing that’s the worst time bc when kids have to come home from school to eat they must be very tired. it’s draining to go to school & even more so to have to go back once you’ve been home for a while so i would try to gather your inner strength & patience for that time. plus maybe you could ask to talk to your 6 yr old alone before the meal & say i love you, i see you’ve been trying better to be good & i have too so we’re in this together & then ask him how he feels or why that time is stressful etc maybe he will tell you. maybe do this everyday & just ask how he is & give him a hug. maybe you could take each of the kids on a special outing with you alone (not based on good behavior just so they can have your attention individually). & then as separate thing offer to give little rewards for good behavior.. instead of consequences for negative behavior. i think you’re right that they all just want more positive attention so just try to give it as much as you can 🙂

  14. A better approach of this article would be the application of WHEN to use time out and when you could try this bells & whistle Time IN. Like Becca stated (kudos to you!) it is absolutely appropriate to instruct a child to be alone when they are behaving in an inappropriate way. I do not believe that I should make my child feel good about themselves WHEN I’m disciplining them. Being alone or Time Out is supposed to make the child feel bad and thereby encouraging them to want to correct their behavior so they can rejoin the group/activity. The conversation comes after the time out – when their behavior is appropriate and you reward them by releasing them. NOTE: The swimmer girl was already told her actions were wrong & unsafe – it wasn’t like she didn’t know – she even admitted it! But yay, let’s sit and chat about it and then not get any punishment for disobeying and just go play more! Seriously?

  15. Yes seriously Moma that disagrees! The reason being is that children do better when they feel better and encouraged. The higher the level of connection a child feels to their caregiver the more likely they are to cooperate with a request. Positive Parenting is based on the knowledge that children do not need to be punished in order to change their behavior, in fact quite the opposite, when children are given time to reflect, correct their own mistakes and feel positive regard from their caregiver or parent they are more able to follow directions and remember what is appropriate behavior, no need to make anyone feel bad. Research in child development and child psychology shows us over and over again that children learn best from positive interactions, not negative ones. Thank you for adding your experience and opening the door for this important discussion.

  16. I am caregiver to a child with some definite behavioral problems. He really struggles with cause and effect, especially how it relates to consequences for one’s actions. I’m all for positive reinforcement and give this little guy as much positive attention and reinforcement as I can, but this just doesn’t make sense to me. I believe that if you hit your playmate you need to be taught that is not appropriate, and I just don’t see how rewarding misbehavior teaches a child, or anyone else, anything. I really understand where Momwhodisagrees is coming from. That little swimmer could have been seriously hurt, and she already knew the behavior was unacceptable. Was she told that if she didn’t stop she would have to leave the pool? How did giving her attention for being disobedient teach her that she needed to obey? If the goal of her behavior was to get attention from the author, then she succeeded and the behavior was re-inforced. She will do the exact same thing next time they are at the pool. I’m willing to try something new, however, this one is a real mind bender. Can you please explain how rewarding a child for negative behavior teaches them appropriate behavior?

  17. Hi curious and confused,
    the approach with time-in is not about positive reinforcement or consequences. The aim of this parenting tool is to understand the child, their motivations and to encourage them to make better choices. This approach takes the idea that children are capable of learning when they are trusted to do so. Taking a few minutes to let the child know that what they are doing is unsafe and talking about alternatives gives the child a chance to think and make an internally motivated choice “I choose now to swim differently so I can enjoy my swimming time”. This leads to internal and intrinsic motivation and self discipline, skills children will need for a life time. You ask about attention for disobedience, again the goal is not obedience in positive parenting but about making good decisions. There are no rewards or punishments being used as leverage or to control, instead we use communication, modeling, trust, encouragement, responsibility and guidance. Not every parenting/discipline tool works for every parent/caregiver or child, that is why I share so many different ones so each family/caregiver can be inspired to make a choice that works for them.

  18. I am wondering, in the swimming situation as an example, if you had done your time in, and as soon as you had your attention on someone else, your little person was again diving in the shallow end, what would your next step have been? She had been told twice that it was not a safe choice to make. Would you repeat the time in at that point? How often would you repeat the time in for what was very unsafe behaviour? I understand about second chances, but I guess I am asking how many chances you give a child to seriously injure themselves?

  19. Hi Wondering,
    If this child continued to have a hard time (which she did not as the story said, she was fine after that time in) I would have likely tried to find a way to set her up for success, for example asking her to show me some of the moves she could safely do in the water, giving her some water toys like floating balls to swim after for example. Another option, seeing as I was looking after only 4 children would have been to invite everyone to get onto a big float and take a ride around the pool to change locations without interfering with everyone fun in the water. Time in is just one of many tools that are a possibility for dealing with situations like this. If a child is doing something that is unsafe I would absolutely kindly AND firmly let them know I will keep them safe. “What you are doing is NOT safe. I care about you AND I cannot let you continue to do that.” In a pool situation that may mean being asked to swim close to me, siting next to me for awhile or choosing to sit on their towel with a book or snack for a bit until they are calm and ready to re-join the group. Again every situation is unique so I would choose accordingly.

  20. About 10-12 years ago, at a family gathering I used the time in method on one of my cousins and didn’t even realize it. All the kids were playing in another room as the adults were playing cards or socializing. I happened to be sitting closest towhere the kids were playing when we herd all the kids cause commotion telling my cousin to stop what she was doing. Her mom was playing cards so I volunteered to handle things. I got my cousin and sat her on my lap at the table with the adults. She was mad and crossed her arms. I told her she had the choice to sit here for 5 or 10 minutes. Without a thought or question she said “I choose 10” and I replied with “10 in is”. A few minutes in she asked if her time was up and I said no, it is just starting. Halway through she asked how long 19 minutes was. I held up onr hand and explained this was 5, then held up other hand beside it and said this is 10. She immediately said she wanted to change her mind and I explained it was too late and she made her choice and has to sit here the full 10 minutes. When her time was almost up I talked to her about what she did wrong and how she should have acted instead. Needless to say, she was the best behaved
    Child, for the rest of the day. Her mom also started using my discipline tool, by using different combinations of number choices, until her daughter learned how to count. At that point of time I was maybe 20 years old with no kids of my own and came up with this idea on a whim, and it worked.

  21. I agree that postive feed back, love, and attention are good tools in helping a child overcome some of these behaviors. But as Becca said,
    “When he is behaving like this, we cannot get him to cooperate with a conversation like yours at the pool; he will change the subject, act silly, insult us, and/or pull away to resume the misbehavior or any other aggravating thing he can find to do”

  22. Sorry I didnt finish.

    At this point the child has shut off to any type of realistic conversation. The more she trys the more he acts out. The one thing that can work is to use distraction and take his mind off the current behavior. For instance, asking him to go help you with a task he may enjoy. This is not a reward for bad behavior but a way to snap him out of it long enough to where you can actually have that talk. I have seen this work countless times…. A “hey Zac lets go for a walk” or a “hey Joe are you hungry/thirsty” anything simple to take his mind off of it. Then once he has calmed revisit. However, some children will even refuse this and something else has to be done. If the child continues the negative behavior something has to be done. I find something called DBT works very well. It was developed as a tool for borderline personality disorder, however, the basic premis works well with children of all ages and problems. The idea is to ignore the negative and praise the postive. During a negative spell you ignore the negative behavior the child is having and give short direct statements and follow through on them. For instance, if your child is constantly interupting and insulting you ask them in a normal tone to stop (Don’t raise your voice but change your tone). If they do not comply then ask them to come with you and remove them from their audience. If that does not work then tell them the consequence and follow through on it. If and then statements at this point. If you do not stop….. then…..! If the behavior continues place the child in a time out and yes starting the time when they are following instructions is key. The next step is key and THIS IS THE NUMBER ONE THING…….. many people do not do. Once the time out is over the child is typically receptive and willing to talk as you said he was Becca. And as you say Ariadne time outs can make a child feel neglected and left out or abandoned and you are also correct. This is the point were a debriefing needs to occur. This is key in trying to change the behavior and if this is not done yes the behavior will continue and even worsen as the child is confused as to what the point of the whole thing was. Sit the child down and ask them why they were behaving in this mannor. You explain to them what you observed and why you placed them in time out ( Kids are smart they will understand). And yes hug them and tell them that you love them. This is a time for bonding and coming to an understanding as to why they were placed in time out. Finally, ask the child what he or she could have done differently letting them reflect on their actions. If they have trouble offer suggestions. Then praise the heck out of them for following instructions, calming down, and for talking with you. This is another big point. Praise all that good they just did. I am a nurse and have worked with problamtic children for 4 years now. Many with OOD, Mood D/O, ADHD, and so on. These are not typical children and yes the TIME IN will work on most. However, Becca your son does not seem like a typical child and if you are truly giving him plenty of attention then his acting out is something more then a cry for attention and that has to be addressed. Because I have seen it get to the point were a child is truly unmanageable no matter what method of correction or amount of attention you give a child.

  23. I like that idea Cella the before meal talk. One thing I think may be helpful is ask him if he wants to help you prepare the food. It gives him some one on one time with you. Granted he is six and can not do much but when you ask a child to be your little helper it gives them a since of belonging. For instance, meal time with 12 children all with behavior issues can be very very hard at times and typically we always have one or two that act up regardless of what is done. I find saying something like Mr. Frank is really busy and we have a lot to do can you help me do “XYZ” I could really use the help it would mean a lot. This makes the child feel special. Now of coursee you may have to let the other two help but you asked him first and you let them do small tasks like set the table or get the butter out of the fridge. It may seem small but it really does work. When I learned this trick I went from having fights in our lunch room to having a pieceful meal as those who pick at the other kids are busy and even when the tasks are over they still are gleaming from being able to help you. Again, I am a nurse for a 12-24 bed in patient psych unit for children 4-12. It seems like a cry for attention to me as you said he may see you giving his brother more attention to get him to eat.

  24. But is that not a form of time out “sitting on your towell”. I have an example…. We have monkey bars on our play ground. We had an 8 year old who loved to clib on top of them. We asked the child multiple times to not get up there and would have a time in with the child telling him how unsafe it was and that not a year ago a child broke his arm doing the exact same activity (which was true). But he refused to follow instructions. We gave the child two chance then reuested he play on another part of the jungle gym or to come play football with me. He chose football with me. All went well for a bit then as I was going to get the ball after I missed a catch He got up on top of the monkey bars again while I had my back turned. So I had done the time in and explained how dangerous it was, asked him a second time, then gave him other options for play and he continued the negative behavior. At this point we had to ask him to sit out of play time as he continued to be a danger to him self and would not follow instructions. I like the idea of positive parenting and I agree with most of it but at what point do you say OK you are not being safe we have to stop this. CHILDREN are very smart and if everytime they have a continue to have a negative behavior you give them a snack or change the type of play like you say the big float or change of location in your example how does it teach the child. Its a type of distraction but what happens when you are caring for the other 3 children and you have your head turned for that split second and the girl dives in again after all of that. At what point is it time to do something like asking her to sit out for a bit. Because my thing is if she is or my little guy is engaged in an unsafe behavior and you tell them in a time in (which is like a loving explination to me) and another prompt and they do it again and get hurt me as a nurse I am liable as I did nothing to stop it. Any parent would be outraged that I continued to allow the bahavior and all I did was talk or distract. Mind you I am not trying to argue with you or anything. I work with children on an everyday basis with many bahavior problems and I am just trying to understand this form of care as it is my duty to continue my education and give my children the best possible care.

  25. Frank, thank you for asking this question. This is where I have my issues with the time-in. The child in my care is the one who is going to push and push and push until he, or some one else, gets hurt and then he’s likely to continue pushing. His therapist said to keep using the time-outs as he finally seems to be grasping the concept of ‘if you’re not being safe you don’t get to play’. At this point with him it seems if I do not utilize time-outs I would be negligent, as no amount of verbal communication will curb his behavior, no matter how loving and sincere I am. At some point you have to recognize that hitting Susie has consequences and that “come sit with me and have my undivided attention” is not a consequence. Overall I think time-in is a great tool, but it’s definitely not going to work with every child in every situation, especially is the main goal of the bad behavior is simply to get your attention.

  26. I agree completely that time in is a great tool and it is just one of many tools that can be used to approach things in a positive manner. When aggression is a recurring problem it is really helpful to look at the situation and try to understand the motivation behind the behavior. Children become aggressive when they have needs that are not being met – these can be physical needs or emotional needs, each child has their own unique situation of course. Positive Discipline series has the Mistaken beliefs chart that can be a very helpful tool in understanding children’s behaviors and choices particularly behaviors that are creative a spiral of looking for attention in negative ways. Consequences are often just a stopping tool but not necessarily a teaching tool – children learn best to regulate their emotions and make better choices by learning about how that can be done – this learning often happens not in the heat of the moment but when things are going well – emotional/social games, stories, conversations can provide that.

  27. Hi,
    I would say it’s not the “time out” that is a problem, but the way it is used. I would never force my child to go somewhere for a certain time, but there were moments, when I suggested, she COULD go in a different room if that would make her feel better. The “time in” as you describe it I used a hundred times without knowing that it had a name.
    When she is disappointed and crying out loud, I am normally giving her a “time in”. But a few times I was stressed out, so I could not be friendly enough, I told her, she could choose to cool down or to cry elsewhere, where I would not hear it that loud. I find it interesting that she chose differently the few times she could.

    Thanks for the nice article! Monika

  28. Hi Monika, yes, I agree with you there are ways to make a time out totally positive by giving the child a choice to find a place to cool off or calm down. Thanks for sharing your story and how you use time in and taking the time to stop by!

  29. Hello, how would you recommend usage of time-in or time out in a developmentally disabled child? I do not have kids of my own but I work with parents who do. One of these children is age 11 but her development is of that of a 7-8 year old. Her mom has tried something similar to time-in by approaching her and comforting her but she refuses to give in and kicks and screams when something doesn’t go her way. She has gone as far as to kicking and pulling her own mom and hitting and throwing a shoe at me. I am trying to do what’s best for her and the mother. thank you!

  30. Hi Ana, in general there is no way to reason, explain or talk to a child that is so upset they are hitting, it’s typically best for emotions to cool off first. It’s very important for any child to learn about calming down and managing their anger outside of such episodes so they can have those tools when things get out of hand. Time in and time out work when children are ready to work together with the parent. If things have gotten heated or there is a struggle involved than instead of a time in something like a positive time out to cool off or a calm down ritual would be more beneficial. At age 11 (and as young as 7) it is alright to let the child know they will need to calm down before any activities resume. The child might want to wait in her room, sit somewhere alone or maybe next to a parent but either way it’s ok to explain that first everyone needs to cool off and that hurting will not be accepted. I would turn to a developmental specialist for a personalized intervention as every family has unique dynamics and also talk to the child when she is calm to set up a strategy she can practice so when her emotions run high she has some self-regulation tools to turn to. best wishes to you.

  31. The difference between the monkey bars example and the swimming pool one is that the child didn’t make their own plan for success.

  32. I do not think you realize that everything in behavior is about consequences and reinforcement. If you determine the motivation and consequences sought by your child with objective data, you can then determine that a child may be hitting for attention (thus use a timeout) or may be pushing because they do not understand the rules (time in may be appropriate). If you have a five year old on the spectrum who is swearing for attention and instead of ignoring it, you use time in, you are going to increase the amount of swearing, probably through the duration of the time in.

  33. […] Now, on the other hand, if you catch the child after the incident, convey that what she did was wrong and give her an “out”. For example, you could say “That was not a good choice, we don’t hit our friends. Do you want to say sorry and make Kaylee feel better?” and if your child is not ready to say sorry yet (mine usually needs some time), you can continue with “Until we are ready to say sorry, let’s sit here and read a book” (This is sometimes also referred to as “time in” versus the traditional “time out”). […]

  34. Ah, why didnt I think of that. I’ll just leave these groceries here on the floor, leave my OTHER CHILD unsupervised, end the important phone call I finally found time to make, turn the burner off on the stove, and hold my pee in a little longer while I sit down with my child who has just been screaming at me for 30 minutes and read to him…again.

    Do people who write this stuff even have kids.

    Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but it is NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE TO GIVE A CHILD YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

    Sending kids to time-out 20 times a day? Obviously something is wrong, not working.

    Sending kids to time-out sometimes when they’ve acted out repeatedly and you are not able to offer them your undivided attention? Just fine.

    Stop guilt-tripping everyone.

  35. Hi Real dad,
    It’s true, time in is not always convinient and it is also only one of many parenting tools that I would suggest for families wanting to use a discipline approach that is aimed at guidance and teaching. The most current research is clear, time out is not helpful for children to really learn how to behave better. While it’s not easy or quick to stop and provide guidance, if a child is “repeatedly acting out” as you say, that is a clue that guidance is very much needed. Behind such acting out is a need that is going unmet and expecting a child to resolve that need alone is unrealistic, unless a child is a bit older and has been taught how to use a calm down plan or other calming strategy. Our aim here is to share the latest evidence based practices, offer possible parenting tools and ideas…each family naturally will chose what works for their family and their needs.

  36. Hi Ariadne. I’ve been reading this article with interest because I’m having a very trying time with my three-year-old at the moment. He is a very bright, highly spirited and sensitive little boy. His baby brother was born just a month ago so I appreciate he has had a lot of change to deal with lately. But to be frank I am running out of ideas! He is very physical and often hurts me and the baby. I ask him not to, explain that it hurts, show him how to be gentle etc, but he laughs and does it again, harder. It is especially embarrassing when this happens in public. I have always tried to parent him in a gentle, positive manner but my “time ins” have proved ineffective. Furthermore, I came under a lot of pressure from certain family members to take a firmer stand with him as they believed I was being too soft and rewarding bad behaviour. So reluctantly, I have started using time out even though it doesn’t fit with my ethos and I know it is not particularly effective either. I am simply at the end of my tether and do not know what else to do. I think he often behaves this way to get attention and it’s true if I am 100% focused on him, he will not act up. But with a 4-week-old baby to care for as well, this is simply not feasible. I would really appreciate any advice as I’m really not being the sort of mother I want to be right now. Many thanks for reading this.

  37. I would love to know the response to this as well. Almost dealing with an identical situation (almost 21/2 yr old and a newborn). My heart goes out to you Mama!

  38. Hi, First of all congratulations on your new little one. When the family grows, it’s very common for the older siblings to act out, it’s a tough transition, especially for a three year old that has had mom all to him self for 3 whole years!! I answered your question in a separate post as I know many parents have the same questions and I wanted to give you as much information as possible (the reply space is limited!)
    You can find the post here: http://positiveparentingconnection.net/how-to-discipline-when-a-new-baby-arrives-and-siblings-act-out/

  39. I am also in the situation with my 3 year old when I try the time in, he is still angry and fighting back ( not physically). I have used time outs 2 different ways: one as a form of discipline, after which I always follow through by talking it out when he has had time to calm down, and two as a way to prompt him into trying to calm down before he “loses control” and hopefully avoiding those negative behaviors. I always always always talk with him afterwards, ask if he knows why I put him in time out, and he most always can tellme why. I don’t like time out as a punishment, I also like to use them to help him know when he may need to take some time to cool off and relax. Seems to work well, as there are times he will walk over and sit down all by himself. I did come to realize though, the chair for punishment and the place for calming (without being timed) needed to be in separate places to avoid confusing him.

  40. We are currently working with a therapy group for our daughter who is about to be 4 she’s had behavior issues since she was two. She has SPD and still working on finding out if she may be having seizures. My question is this therapy group follows the PCIT methods which involves child directed play therapy everyday and parent directed play everyday. We are moving into the discipline portion which includes timeouts. I want to do time ins but my daughter goes into rages seemingly for no reason which have caused me to bleed from bites as well as nose bleeds and black eyes. Do you think these time ins work for all children regardless of special needs?

  41. Hi there, time ins can be helpful for children with SPD. That being said, for all families, finding the right tools to use is also about adjusting to your families needs, so what works for one child may not be the best approach for another. Bites and bruises and raging can be taxing and challenging and keeping everyone safe is important. Time out in the sense like a sports time out where everyone just pauses sounds more helpful here, where you are present but not so close you get hurt. Some parents need a time out to prevent burn out and frustration too…Many young children need to rage, they can learn to do so safely, so you can also modify the time in of being on a lap or sitting together to instead simply being present and listening but not getting hurt. I hope that helps.

  42. Hello, Great discussion everyone. I have a strong willed, 2 y/o daughter. Maya is a great person, but sometimes her emotions and will get to be too much for mommy’s positive, proactive, connection based discipline. She gets really mad and hits, pinches and bites- mostly mommy. I actually have a great example of when positive parenting worked great and an example of where I needed some other techniques to help really get the point across that hitting, and biting are not OK! 1st, she took a neighbor’s dolls and ran into our house. This made our neighbor cry and mommy and Maya hugged and talked about how the dolls are our friend’s and we went to the little girl and looked at how sad she looked because Maya took her dolls. I reminded her about what a good friend our neighbor is and how much we like playing with her. We gave Maya a lot of time to think about her actions and talked about how the nice and friendly thing to do is to give back the dolls. SHE DID IT! It felt like a miracle. Remember she’s almost 2 y/o. I was so happy and proud! Then we went to the park and the situation was almost the same, but the results were totally different. There was another little 5 y/o girl playing with her Barbie dolls and she let Maya play with them for a long time. When it was about 10 minutes from leaving time (it was getting dark) I calmly and clearly told Maya we were going to have to leave soon and she would need to give the dolls back. She said, “No!” But, we had 10 minutes so I wasn’t too worried. 5 minutes later we repeated the interaction. Then it was really time for the girl to leave, it was past dusk. I asked Maya to give back the dolls now, but she wouldn’t I knew it wasn’t going to be a good move but there wasn’t time to let her give the dolls back so I grabbed them out of her hands. She was SO MAD! She bit my check really hard. She actually bit through my skin, was screaming and slapping me. I didn’t loose my patience or get angry, but it was scary to see my daughter acting this way. When she calmed down, we sat and hugged and talked about how mad she got when mommy grabbed the dolls from her hands, and how she bit mommy. It’s never OK to bite! She felt bad that she bit me. I know because of the tone of her voice and she was crying about it. I got her to say, “No bite.”
    The next day at our pediatrician’s she advised I start time outs. I’ve been reading a lot of positive parenting blogs so I wasn’t sure about time outs. With my 2 y/o though I don’t think all this talking to toddlers and expecting them to understand the complexities of human behavior is really working with my child so I was looking for something more simple and direct. I don’t actually give her time out, I go into our bedroom with her when she gets a ‘time out.’ I sit with her I try to show her how to breathe calmly and we count together until she calms down and then I give a quick simple reason she got ‘time out’ like, no pinching, and then we hug. I actually read everyone’s posts looking for a better name for what I’m doing I think I’ll call it ‘Time to Think.’

  43. My mom used long timeouts when I was a kid, and it destroyed our relationship. (This was 60+ years ago.) I don’t know what she thought I was doing all that time in a room with nothing to do, maybe repenting? What I did do was to build up a major case of self-pity, which turned into anger and hostility. Unfortunately, she died of breast cancer when I was 17, so I never had a grown-up chance to talk it out with her. (Once when I tried, she got all upset.)
    I never used time-outs with my four kids. In many cases,dropping the voice level worked (they were curious what I as saying), in some cases physically stopping the behavior with no, we don’t do that. If they argued, I said that nagging made it an automatic NO; waiting until we both cooled down might change things. In some cases, a quick swat (has to be done immediately) as a negative reinforcement worked if it was important to associate the memory of the behavior with discomfort.
    They all turned out good, raised reasonably well-behaved kids.

  44. I have tried time ins with my child and found that they work some of the time. I have also tried talking, connecting, holding, etc as I know many people suggest. However, my almost 4 year old just does not respond to this in some situations. I find that his emotions need to peak before his reptilian brain will let go and his logical brain will return. Sometimes the only way for this to happen is to ignore him, physically remove him from the room or ask him to sit on a sticker that we use as a timeout area. Then, he will ask (or scream rather) that he needs a hug and I will be able to help him calm down with breathing and a hug. Otherwise he will have raging tantrums that can last for an hour or more with no end in sight. Snuggles and connection DO NOT work with this kid until he is ready. Even as a baby he was this way. Any suggestions are welcome.

  45. Hi Sunny, It sounds like from your comment that both of you are finding a way to work together. Some children certainly need more time to process, rage, cry or feel their feelings fully. It’s a beautiful gift to give children safe space in which to express their feelings. At age 4 a child is still very immature in the sense that their self-regulation skills are still emerging. Coaching them through what they are feeling – which includes recognizing when they need space – is very valuable. I know depending on the context, it can be difficult to wait extra time, but often the shortest road to calm is by going through the thick, difficult emotions – embracing all the child has to release and then being present and ready to connect again when they are ready. A four year old that can say “I need a HUUUUUG!” is already showing wonderful emotional regulation skills, in the sense that the child is recognizing what is helpful. For children that feel things quite intensely, something I find that helps is to remember “stop unhelpful behaviors don’t stop the emotions” meaning if a child is trying to hurt someone / self you stop, block and keep them safe. but otherwise the emotional release through tears, sitting alone (if they so choose) until ready to connect again with a parent is perfectly healthy. Being present and facilitating that release would be the goal. hope that helps!

  46. HI ,I baby sit a 3 year old that hits he brother a lot i was wondering what is the best thing to try thank you .

  47. Hi Nancy, 3 year olds tend to hit when they are overwhelmed, anxious or fearful. Its usually very helpful to just limit the behavior with a calm, matter of fact voice and gently blocking them from hitting and then listening if they need to cry and protest that limit. After that you can give them choices of what they can do – play with a toy or listen to a story for example. If they don’t release their feelings with crying and then moving on, but continue to hit, you again set a limit and wait to see if they can move forward or need more guidance from you. Engaging in playful games together so you are a trusted source of comfort is a good idea too. Hope that helps you.

  48. Time in sounds fine. But when i tried it with my daughter she just kept lashing out at me (we only use time out for hitting really) over and over.
    Id move away and she would throw stuff at me. And the whole talk to them when calm doesnt work with her either
    When i said hitting hurts mum and isnt nice. You dont want to hurt mum do you? She said ‘yes i do!’
    And she also tells people shes going to hit or kick someone/an animal and then does.
    She does not exibit this behaviour around other kids?

  49. Hi Estella, thank you for sharing your experience here. Young children tend to hit when they are very fearful and angry. I am going to venture a guess here that when your daughter answers “yes I do” to the question of wanting to hurt you, she is likely trying to physically show you how she is feeling. CHildren don’t do this consciously or purposefully so it’s not likely your daughter wants to hurt you as much as she is asking for understanding – she is letting you know she doesn’t like something and needs guidance to find a better way to do so. Talking about her feelings instead of her actions can be a great starting point. When she is calm you might say “you were so angry. so angry you were hitting. did you feel the anger in your belly? or your hands? When I feel angry my belly feels hot, what about yours?” developing an emotional vocabulary is a good step towards self-regulation, so your daughter will learn what she feels before she hits and can make a new choice. It’s also ok to step in and limit her behavior with throwing and hitting, a time in usually does not look picture perfect calm – in fact many children need time to process their feelings by crying, raging, shouting – this is age appropriate and we simply help them stay safe until the feelings have been processed – then you can talk to the child about the feelings first – their actions second. Hope that helps.

  50. Ok, the pool scenario makes perfect sense and is a natural consequence: can’t follow the rules, take a break from the pool. But how about this: After eating a full dinner, my three year old demands I make him mac and cheese. We’ve been through this before. He’s not hungry, he just likes to help make mac and cheese because it’s fun to put the cheese in. Then he won’t touch it because he just ate a full and healthy dinner. I say “no” and offer him a different snack. He persists. I offer him something else fun to play with. He gets angry and hits me in the face. I pull him close and calmly tell him that we don’t hit. Hitting makes ouchies, when he hit me he hurt me and made me feel sad. He losses it and screams, “No! Hitting feels good! We DO hit!” and hits me again. What am I supposed to do here? Tonight, I said, “Ok, time out.” He tries to run away from me, and I carry him to my bed (a place he likes) and let him scream it out. After about a minute he starts saying “I need hugs” so I go in and hug him for the rest of his “time.” When he’s calm, I talk to him about why he got a time out. I encourage an apology but don’t force it because I don’t see the point of forcing apologies. Seems like lying. He never does apologize, and we continue our night, without more hitting. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do in this situation, when a “time in” fails and he keeps hitting–something that we do not allow, at all. I’ve read that if you threaten time outs, then you’re using them wrong. When he gets heated he loves to throw things. After the first throw, when he goes for another object, we tell him “If you throw that, you will get a time out.” He often responds “I want to THROW IT!!!!” I calmly tell him, “I understand, but if you do, you get a time out.” He always stops, and then accepts my offer of a better way to get out his anger (hit a pillow, jump on mommy’s bed, get some cuddles). It’s hard for me to see what a better option here would be, but I am open to ideas. I don’t want to be hurting my kid.

  51. Hi Erin, when a child is demanding something unreasonable they are likely looking for a way to release pent up emotions or for a moment of really close connection. It really is alright to set a limit, in this case it might sound like “I am not making mac and cheese right now” and then give him time and space to feel his feelings. You can call this time that he needs to protest your NO anything really, time in, time out, taking a break… As for the throwing, I would encourage you to focus on the emotional side of this, not the throwing but the anger underneath. So instead threatening a time out – recognize that your son does need guidance (no need to invite the second throw) and simply let him know you are taking a break together. It might sound like saying “I’m not letting you throw, I see you are angry (name feelings you recognize) and I am here to help you calm” At age three children are not likely to self-regulate well enough to recognize their own anger and choose not to go to time out – they need help understanding feelings first and as they grow they will regulate because they recognize that feeling and now know how to mange it. This might be helpful Helping Young Children Manage Anger and Aggression

  52. Hi Estella, I would encourage you to explore what feelings your daughter is experiencing when she is telling you she wants to hurt you and others. It sounds like frustration and hurt that she needs help managing. Listening and validating is often more helpful to connect first, when the child believes someone actually understands them they are more willing to listen to what you have to say. Validating her feelings before things escalate can be helpful as well. I`m not sure her age but guessing between 3 and 5 years old in which case learning some cool down games and alternatives to hitting when she is NOT upset could be helpful.

  53. While reading through this I couldn’t help but notice that you completely neglect to explain how the time-out works. Time-out isn’t to isolate the child and neglect them. It is used to remove all stimulus from them. When a child is being physically or verbally abusive and they have an audience then they will keep on being abusive. Only once you remove the audience can they begin to deescalate. Once calm then they can be removed from time-out and the situation should be re-assessed. You should always re-assess the situation after they have calmed down, which is something you also neglected to mention. Time-ins can work for certain situations, but by no means does it work for all.

  54. Hi Tylor,
    Thanks for sharing your ideas here. This particular post is meant to encourage parents to use time in well, to model self-regulation and to reconnect with their child. Time out is explained in the post here:

    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.

    Time out is most often used in a way that is unhelpful to children, and I share that based on direct observation working with families as well as from much research on this subject. Many parents raise their voice and use the threat of time out to elicit a behavior change or use time out only as a means to stop a behavior and do not see it as an opportunity to model self-regulation or calming down.

    Time in where the parent helps the child means the parent is taking time to be with a child, allowing the child to first feel and then reflect on their actions and understand the extent to which those actions were helpful or not. Time in can be used while still limiting unhelpful behaviors like hitting or kicking.

    It is also very important to adapt to the age of the child. A two year old does not understand time out, but a four year old may benefit from time alone to reflect – this is a process that the parent can build on and help the child as they grow. In positive discipline this is called a positive time out and is given to the child as a choice not a command.

    As you mention that time ins don’t work for all situations, this is correct. I always encourage parents to learn a range of positive parenting tools so they will be able to adjust and respond according to the situation and child’s needs.

  55. Thank you for the article and I think that it comes from a good place.

    My suggestion is to mix and match! Kids will never behave at a 100% all the time as they are barely learning how to navigate in this world. We have so many issues from our own childhoods that the process itself is so complicated. Having to correct them one million times a day sometimes comes with the territory depending on whether you are having a good day or a bad day. Emotions and external factors fluctuate both in regards to the children and you as a parent. It is your job to make sure that they flourish in the world. At the end of the day make sure that you spend time with them and play with them if they are at the age; connect with them so they are not feeling the urge to search for negative attention. Love them and tell them you love them one million times. If you use time outs, make sure to end it positively by talking to them about what they did wrong and a hug. Time outs are not always necessary so use your better judgement about when you can also plug in time ins. Again, show them that you love, love, love them and teach them right from wrong. Never be afraid to discipline unless it is abusive which is absolutely not okay (both physically and emotionally). Children need boundaries and sometimes their wildfires and maturity levels are not quite there yet to completely understand why adults behave in certain ways or want them to behave in those ways, so going into a long winded conversation may go right over their heads.

    We need to feel a little bit of guilt in order to become better parents, however, we have to be realistic in our expectations for children. Our children are ours, and NOBODY knows them better than we do. Love, discipline, and more love.

  56. I’ve just started my journey is positive parents about 3 weeks ago, I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old. I’ve noticed that my triggers are with nap time and bed time. My girls sleep on a bunk bed, oldest on top youngest on bottom. I can’t for the life of me get the to stop playing with each other. I start off calm and after an hour of putting them back in bed, covering them back up, quietly explaining that it’s time to sleep, I end up losing my cool and start yelling again. This leaves me sad and angry with myself & I don’t know how to stop the cycle. I’ve tried ignoring them, I’ve tried “shaking their wiggles out” before bed, I’ve tried having a cool down session before bed. I can’t seem to beat this issue. I know, this is an old post, but I would still love some feed back.

  57. Hi Grace,
    I wonder if you would save time and end the hassle if you were to sit there in the girls room and read a book very quietly? In other words, you are close by as a reminder that you expect quiet but try to interact as little as possible so that the message is kind and clear at the same time. If you invest a few minutes, say 10 to 15 waiting for “sleep to show up” and then walk out of the room when both are asleep you may save yourself 45 minutes of going back and forth… Just an idea 🙂

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