Are Time-Ins Better Than Time-Outs?

As their parents, we can see things that our children can’t. We see the bigger picture. We know what is good for them, even if it’s not easy for them. And I find that the term “gentle parenting” gives the impression to parents that if everything isn’t easy, kumbaya, and relaxed, then it’s problematic. 

As many know, I am anti-timeout. 

One would assume that I’m all about the time-ins instead and they couldn’t be more wrong!

A few repeated questions Uncommon Parenting receives are about time-ins. After some extensive digging, I was unable to find a single being or text that has agreed to be the originator of the “time-ins” concept. But all the sources on time-ins, suggested time-ins as an alternative to timeouts. 

Not being able to find an originator of this concept, I was also unable to pin down any specific criteria of “how to do a time-in” but here is a breakdown of what I could find:

  • remove the child from the situation
  • stay with the child
  • talk to the child about their behaviour and what they can do better next time
  • keep the child with you until the child has calmed down

Just like a timeout, only instead of isolating them and ignoring them to shame them, you’re badgering them and confining them with you. 

I just see them as two bad sides of the same coin. Both of these treat behaviour as though children are doing whatever it is they’re doing because they’ve made an intentional and conscious choice to do it. 

That’s just not how behaviour works. 

When a child is deregulated, low on energy, or doesn’t feel safe, the part of their brain that deals with reason and logic, language, knowledge and learning, gets deprived of resources because it’s not necessary for us to survive. Therefore they can’t physically use that part of their brain in that moment, as it’s not getting the juice (oxygen and glucose) it needs to function. 

If they can’t use that part of their brain, talking at them isn’t going to do anything, except maybe escalate them. Even if they don’t escalate, they can’t learn or process language when they’re experiencing big emotions, so all your carefully worded instruction is just going in one ear and out the other. It’s not that they don’t care, or that they’re being stubborn, or that they don’t want to listen – they just physically can’t do what you’re trying to get them to do.

The other thing I object to about time-ins, is that it assumes that all children will calm down most effectively with the help of an adult. 

I’ve had clients tell me that they’ve tried to do a time-in, and that their child is screaming in their face for them to go away, but that they’ve stayed, tried to cuddle them and kept trying to talk to them. 

How are we supposed to teach our children to listen to us when we blatantly ignore their words? If a child is telling you to back up, stop touching them, to go away, they are telling you what they need to calm down. 

Also parents seem to think that time-ins suggest sitting there while your children attack you. You should not feel obligated to sit there and get hit, bit, head-butt, or kicked in the name of “comforting them.” Your presence is not a comfort in that moment. Forcing yourself on someone who doesn’t want you around is no better than isolating someone than is desperately looking for connection!

One of two things I can get on board with: remove the child from the situation.

Often a change of scenery is necessary and children just don’t recognize that they can walk away from a situation. But even then, I caution you: try to remove everybody else from a situation if possible, vs removing the child. 

If you’re deregulated, or feeling unsafe and someone comes and tries to control your body, that will be the spark that lights the fuse of an explosion. If it’s possible, try to get the child to remove themselves, or I try to get the other children or adults involved to move themselves out of the situation.

Another thing I can get on board with is: calming your children down. 

Most of what I read when it came to time-ins wasn’t so much focused on calming down as it was on getting the child to be quiet and listen. In fact, a few examples I read of a “successful time-in” were of the child going into a state of freeze. They became quiet and still, were still avoiding engaging and eye contact, nodding at whatever the parent said. That’s not calm, that’s a freeze state. That is their survival instincts kicking in. That’s not a state where any learning is happening either. A freeze-state is the most shutdown state you can go into. 

What every child finds calming is going to be different because everyone is different. There’s a big difference between quiet and calm. If you’re removing your child to do something calming: 

1. Make sure you’re actually engaging them in something that is calming them down. 

2. Don’t try to teach them before they have calmed.

Those are two things need to be done before using the Logical Consequence Process. 

The LCP requires your child to be using their neocortex. They have to be calm and regulated before they can engage in it, but it doesn’t require you to either isolate or force your presence on your child. It gives you the space to listen to them, and then engage when they’re calm. The LCP can only be used for misbehaviour, not stress behaviour. 

Timeouts and time-ins both assume all behaviour is conscious choices, while most behavioural challenges are actually stress behaviour. For which you have to focus on reducing stressors and building skills. 

So what do you think? Is time-ins any better than timeouts? 

Are there some changes you can make to how you’re dealing with your child’s challenging behaviour? 

For more information, I encourage you to sign up for my free class: How to Raise Well-Behaved Kids Without Yelling, Shaming, or Time-Outs.

In the class, I go through the 3 major mistakes most parents make when trying to raise well-behaved kids, my 3 pillars of well-behaved kids, and how (by paying attention to each one of them) we can raise well-behaved kids with ease, joy, and fun. 

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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