Time Out vs. Time In – What is the Difference?
Although there is no evidence that time outs have detrimental effects on children, some parents fear that time outs can make children feel isolated and abandoned. Parents of children who are incredibly young or diagnosed with cognitive disorders may also feel that their children do not know how to process the punishment, reflect upon what they have done wrong, and correct misbehavior. Similarly, parents of older children may feel that time outs lead to greater power struggles as well as missed opportunities for kids to learn how to self-regulate their emotions.
As an alternative to traditional time outs, some parents use time ins instead. A time in is the method of empathizing with struggling or emotional children and making them feel heard until they calm down again. Parents who have had to put their children in time outs daily (or even hourly) may decide to switch to time ins to work toward a joint solution. The following insights provide guidance as you decide whether time outs or time ins are most suitable for your child.
Options for Time Out
When your child is in time out, you should work on what you would normally be doing but remain close enough to know if your child is in danger or attempts to leave the time out spot. In the event that you need to put two or more children in time out, be sure to place them in different areas.
If a child is mishandling a toy or quarreling with another child over a toy, another option is to put the toy itself in time out. This compromise limits the amount of time you have to physically put your child in time out and can also help teach children the concepts of sharing, reflection, and self-control. After the time out is over, explain why the toy was in time out and have your child repeat why the toy was in time out. This can help your child learn positive behaviors like proper handling of toys or playing cooperatively with other children.
Recommended Steps for Time Out
Step One – Check Misbehavior with a Verbal Warning
Parents should calmly tell children that if they do not follow directions, they will receive a time out. Wait at least five seconds for the child to comply. Once the child follows directions or stops misbehavior after receiving the verbal warning, be sure to praise the child specifically for doing the right thing. Always follow through with a time out if the child does not comply with the warning, but also be sure to always praise the child for good behavior in response to the warning.
Step Two – Assign Time Out if Necessary (and Always Explain Why)
If you have to put children in time out for being disobedient, state clearly that they are going in time out and always explain why in a sentence or two. Do not lecture, scold, or argue. Instead, place the child in time out for an age-appropriate length of time.
Step Three – Have Your Child Sit in Time Out
Step Four – Bring Time Out to a Reasonable End
Time out should always have a reasonable length. It usually lasts between two and five minutes for toddlers and preschoolers. A good rule of thumb would be to give a minute of time out for each year of the child’s age. This means that a three-year-old’s time out would be three minutes, a four-year-old’s time out would be four minutes, and so on. Time outs tend to work best for children between three and eight years of age.
Step Five – Be Sure to Praise the Next Positive Thing Your Child Does
It is important to provide balance by praising the next great thing your child does (especially if it results from learning the lesson). This helps the child understand consequences and to realize that discipline occurred out of genuine care and concern.
Options for Time In
One of the easiest ways to use a time in is to calmly invite the child to a neutral place to express feelings and calm down. To ensure that the time in is long enough, you may want to use a timer for three to five minutes for this purpose. Repeat the child’s concern and asks how he or she feels about the situation. Then offer a solution and have the child repeat the suggestion. Once the timer dings, children are more likely to feel that you acknowledged their frustrations and offered a resolution.
For more suggestions on how to create a custom plan of action for your child, contact The Warren Center.