Disciplining Negative Behavior - Time In's Vs Time Outs
Your child is throwing toys, speaking with disrespect, hitting their sibling, or any other undesirable behavior and so often the first reaction is to remove them from the situation. Go to your room you might say. Don’t come back out until you have calmed down.
The problem with this type of discipline is so often the child does not have the emotional maturity to calm themselves down. Sending them to their room in a worked-up mess only worsens the problem. Sure they may eventually calm down and come out but often another negative behavior is likely just around the corner.
Think about when you get upset or worked up about something. You don’t always have the ability to react in a calm way. How often have you lost your cool on your kids?
Our kids need help to emotionally regulate. This is even more so true if you are parenting a child from a trauma background.
I first learned about this parenting technique when I was in training to be a foster parent. To be honest, I had never heard about it before.
I never really thought of timeouts being negative. I remember being put in time-outs. I get the idea of needing time and space to calm down BUT this can be achieved much quicker and easier with the help of an emotionally regulated parent.
Kids are going to seek attention no matter what. Positive or negative, and if they aren’t getting positive attention, they will do negative things to get the attention. Any attention is good attention to them. The younger they are both physically or mentally in the world of trauma parenting the more this is true, and the more help they are going to need.
Time In’s work well for the ages of 2-8. Usually after the age of 8, a child has some tools in their toolkit to help them regulate on their own and a time out for them to remove themselves from the situation may be a better choice. But those little years, I truly feel a time-in is more appropriate.
Both solve the same problem of removing them from the situation and indicating the behaviour was not acceptable but time-outs can breed feelings of isolation and shame without really getting to the root issue.
Time-ins give your young child a safe space to calm down without feeling like no one is there to help them. Usually, they are much quicker to want to correct the behavior.
Time-Ins really work well with our third daughter who we need to parent a bit differently due to her being adopted from the foster care system.
Time-outs (and yes I have tried them) only escalate her and seem to put her in a foul mood. She does so much better when we stop, calm down together, make eye contact and discuss the behavior and consequence if that behavior is to be repeated. She usually happily returns to her cheery disposition and is eager to apologize and make it right.
I share this because it challenged me. At first, I thought, giving them undivided attention is just rewarding their bad behavior. Time and experience have proven this is not the case. If I use a time out vs a time in (say on days where I just need a time out and don’t have the energy for a time in) I almost always end up with worse behaviors and more challenges to parent and correct.
Time-ins have proven to be so beneficial and in some cases absolutely crucial.
So, practically what does a time in look like in our family? A gentle “come with me child’s name” and I move to another room in the house. If I need to, I will put the baby in a high chair and get an older child to supervise so I can be intentional with the time in. I then sit down beside or just near to them depending on the rage level. (Parenting kids with trauma? I know you can relate on the rage comment)
Sometimes I will put relaxing instrumental music on, sometimes I will just sit and read and wait for the child to calm down enough that I can speak with them.
The next step is eye contact. I am sure that I am on the same level as the child and to standing over them. Making it fun works well for us. “Let me see your beautiful eyes” and I repeat different variations of this until the child looks up and makes eye contact.
Then we discuss first their feelings about the situation. It is important to name the emotion.
This may look like “I know you were angry when Joey took your toy” or “I know you were upset when mommy said you couldn’t have a cookie right now.” Or “I know it makes you sad when we have to leave the park and we were having so much fun.
Once a child feels validated it is easier to help them through the issue. Rationalizing doesn’t work with toddlers but if the child is a bit older you can maybe try some rationalizing.
I simply explain yelling or screaming or hitting or throwing themselves on the floor isn’t the best way to act when we feel said emotion.
I empower them to use their words, ask for 2 more minutes, or come up with an idea when a good time to eat a cookie would be.
I remind them that we need to apologize and ask forgiveness and that we can try things again with a happy heart.
I also make sure to apologize if I escalated the situation by yelling or snapping at them to leave the room (which despite my best regulation efforts happens from time to time.
Now I wanted to share this with you today because it is a very effective parenting technique but I also wanted to remind you about some things we can do to prevent us from getting there in the first place.
First is a good sleep schedule and a fed belly. 90% of the time this is the issue, hangry, tired toddlers and young kids are never that much fun.
The second is clear expectations. The more intentional I am with setting clear expectations the better my kids behave. They know what is acceptable and what isn’t. Kids thrive with boundaries.
The next is choices. Giving kids a choice of two things from a young age is super helpful to not feel like you are in a constant power struggle. It allows them to feel like they have a choice over their own little decisions that they are happy to let you make the big ones for them.
The next is transition warnings. We understand that a fun party or wedding ends at a specific time but kids don’t understand the concept of time they just realize fun was being had and now fun is stopping.
And most importantly is teaching godly character from a young age. Helping kids to recognize thier sin and turn to their Savior will forever be my best advice for parenting littles. Read the Bible to them. Often and repetitively. Memorize verese. Model godly character as best as you can. Our kids learn more from our actions more than our words.