Time outs are one of the most popular disciplinary tools for parents. They can be a great way to let kids know when their behavior is unacceptable without escalating the situation, which can distract kids from what you want them to learn. There is also another school of thought that a “time in” may be even more beneficial. We will explore both techniques, how they work, and how effective they are for parents and kids.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry promote time-outs as an effective parenting strategy. It’s important that a time-out space, whether it’s a bedroom, a chair, or a staircase, is a boring location without toys, media, or other forms of entertainment or distraction.
The optimal way to give a time out is to provide one warning, meaning if the child doesn’t cooperate within five seconds, they go into time out. If kids are used to repeated warnings, the classic nagging until the parent loses it and orders the kid into time out, it’s not going to be as effective.
Give the child enough time to calm down and become quiet. When the time out ends, it’s helpful to follow through with the request that led to the time out in the first place. If your child got angry because you told them to pick up their toys, you need to tell them again to pick up the toys after the time out.
Just know that time outs do not actually help children learn to regulate their emotions or help them learn moral values like right from wrong. Often, time outs can lead to more power struggles.
Recently, some prominent child psychologists have raised doubts about the safety and efficacy of time outs, especially those involving sending a child to their room or otherwise cutting them off from contact with other people. Instead, many are now advocating for the use of time ins.
Unlike a time out, which traditionally involves sending a child to his room or some other solitary place, a time in involves having a child sit quietly in the same room with a parent. Time ins are an inclusive practice that communicate to the child that “I’m here to help you calm down and we can work this out.” The time in gives you the opportunity to really connect and then address whatever change needs to be made. It also allows for time to reinforce good behavior and lessons on what is right and wrong.
You can also try warding off the kind of behavior that might warrant a time out with time in. That means noticing when your children’s behavior is starting to get out of hand and spending five or 10 minutes with them before they seriously misbehave. It’s like a preemptive strike. During the time in, parents are encouraged to empathize with the child’s feelings. Often just this quiet connection is all that is needed until the storm has passed. Once they’ve gotten some quality time with you, you can usually count on reasonably appropriate behavior for a little while.
Like any parenting tool, time outs or time ins need to be used correctly if you want them to be effective. It’s important for parents to be consistent about what will or won’t land a child in time out or when to use time in. As always, it’s also crucial that parents provide a generally loving, warm environment and reward good behavior with hugs, smiles, and verbal acknowledgment.
Remember, your kids crave your attention and will get it any way they see will work. Spending quality time with them during the day will help alleviate incidents that require any time out or time in.