Time-ins are the New Toddler Discipline

Toddlers can be a handful. And although most weird toddler behaviors are actually quite normal, it can be hard to keep that perspective when she’s acting out and behaving like a terror. Before you put her in a time-out, there’s a new method that can be more effective. It’s called a “time-in” and it’s changing the game for parenting toddlers. So what is a time-in, how does it work and why should you try it? Here’s what you need to know about this new positive toddler discipline technique.


What is the Difference Between a Time-In vs. a Time-Out?

Almost everyone knows the gist of a time-out. Your toddler misbehaves and taken away from the source of the conflict to a designated area to cool off and calm down. But in some ways time-outs have become very elaborate with time-out chairs, steps and complicated rules. The question then becomes, is this form of discipline rooted in shame? Because a time-out has always been intended to redirect misbehavior. And if it becomes punishment, that can escalate problems even further.

The big difference with a time-in, then, is that rather than leaving your child alone you stay with her. As she’s calming down, you give her space to talk about feelings and motivations with reassuring affection and encouraging words. It’s a constructive way for you to think together and come up with solutions for how to handle conflict more effectively.

For example, in a traditional time-out your child would be exiled to a corner of her room for a few minutes after misbehaving. With a time-in, you’d sit with her and talk about the behavior, let her voice her frustrations and then talk about better or alternative ways to deal with the emotions. You might also discuss other activities she can do that can redirect the frustrations altogether. The goal for a time-in is to help a child understand her emotions and how to more appropriately manage them.


Why Should You Consider Time-Ins as a Form of Discipline?

At first glance, it may feel like a time-in could be challenging given it can be tough for even adults to manage difficult emotions. But it does give you, the parent, a way to coach your child on appropriate ways to handle their feelings. And more often than not, it gives you an opportunity to handle difficult emotions together. If your toddler’s behavior is making you angry and causing you to call a time-out, then a time-in offers a safe place to calm down and press pause on the situation until the difficult emotions can be diffused.


The Right Way to Use Time-Ins Effectively

Take an experimental approach when first considering time-ins. Consistency can be the glue to getting habits to stick, but each child is different. Depending on the age of your toddler, keep the time-in short and to the point. For little ones under the age of two, redirection is usually all that’s needed. For toddlers who are a little bit older, communicate your feelings, reinforce your love for her and then let her know she can return to the activity when she’s ready. An example would be a toddler who doesn’t get her way and calls you a bad name. Explain to her that you hear her frustration but it isn’t ok to use hurtful words. Give her a hug, tell her you love her and that you’ll be waiting in the room and excited to play again when she’s ready. Once she does come back, keep the focus on the present moment and don’t try to rehash anything from the previous incident.

Other things to consider with time-ins include being honest, not using time-ins as a threat, staying away from rationalizing and using positive reinforcement. If you’re feeling frustrated, tell your toddler that. Communicating your need to calm down can reiterate that feelings are normal and not wrong or bad. Likewise, a time-in should always be used to redirect behavior rather than as punishment. It may be tempting to try and rationalize with your toddler but remember that toddlers are irrational to begin with. The purpose of a time-in is for your toddler to reach a conclusion on her own. And finally, when you spot positive behavior, tell her. It’s easy to get caught up with negative actions but acknowledging when she’s playing nicely is a great way to show that positive behavior is rewarded.

The best thing about a time-in is that it gives you and your toddler a chance to work through a difficult situation without anger or resentment. As with all toddler stages, it takes patience and a willingness to try a few times to get the rhythm right. But in the long-term, you’re teaching your child valuable ways to diffuse conflict and manage her emotions in a healthy way.

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