With the best will in the world as parents there will always be times when we need to step in and address our kids behaviour. Good social behaviour is after all a learnt skill.
We use (what I used to think was) “Time In” rather than Time Out as a more effective tool to manage challenging behaviour; when our kids are struggling to control their emotions, being defiant or testing boundaries.
I prefer the gentleness of the technique and the long term benefits for all rather than the short term focus of Time Out. I have since found out that our version of Time In differs greatly from others. Ours has no focus on punishment but on understanding… maybe I should come up with another name for it?!
The times when we have to resort to removing one of our children from a situation is thankfully few and far between. We agreed how we would parent the more challenging moments right from the start so we have been consistent in this approach from the beginning. For us it is absolutely the best way to peacefully [as possible] manage when our little ones need us to step up.
Time In for us is about being present, available, calm and understanding towards our children.
It’s about continuing the theme that our family is a team and we are ALWAYS there to support and help each other – even more so when the going is tougher. Time In is an opportunity to reconnect and demonstrate both our physical and emotional availability to one another.
Time Out focusses on removing a child from a given situation and using social isolation as a form of discipline. The problem with this, as I see it, is that this teaches children that just when they hit a storm we let them go, cut them lose to rationalise the emotion by themselves.
Of course this doesn’t happen – we haven’t taught them how.
What time out does is teach a child that emotions need to be put aside, not acknowledged or resolved, in order for them to return to the social situation.
By doing this we fail to help our children recognise the emotion they are experiencing and we fail to give them ways to cope.
Studies have shown that Time Out leads to feelings of being abandoned, rejected, frightened, confused, shamed and scared. They turn into power struggles between parent and child rather than an opportunity to learn from us.
The key parenting dynamics of our Time In are:
Empathise with their feelings
Connect with your child
Help them recognise the emotion they are feeling
Teach them how to cope with the emotion appropriately.
T was playing up really badly once – he was with our neighbours children and the Daddies playing outside. He got so bad that Daddy sent him in to me to calm him down because he was losing patience and didn’t want to escalate. Turns out T was jealous, but because he couldn’t name jealous he was struggling to verbalise his feelings.
By connecting with him and talking through what he was feeling T learnt what jealousy was and how we can work around it. A huge part of him calming down was giving a name to what he was feeling and explaining it was normal: but we have to manage it.
Here are a few ways to make Time In work for you:
Apply the warning system if you spot things escalating.
Go to your child and calmly explain why the behaviour isn’t appropriate. Then ask them how they think we can resolve the situation. By involving the children in solution finding we are teaching them:
a) how to cope
b) how to view things from someone else’s perspective
c) that their opinions matter and they are capable of problem solving in a rationale, calm and peaceful manner
Wait to Talk
Allow time for your child to calm down first. T & S both ask to be left alone and for us to “go away” while they come to terms with the situation.
They just need a few moments to process and experience the emotion before resolving it.
We always stay close by, they know we are available to them. A good way to do this is just to sit yourself down on the floor near them and wait. But still be present – don’t start scrolling on your phone! One of the key aspects though is not to start a discussion before they are ready to talk it through. By talking over them or whilst you are taking them out of the situation you enter into a power struggle rather than a place of resolution.
Gain Perspective & Gather Your Thoughts
One of the key aspects of Time In is empathy. Take this moment while you wait to review what has happened from THEIR perspective. Think about how you would feel and what emotions you would experience. It will better set you up with helping them find ways to cope. Plus starting out with “I understand you are xxx” helps them realise you are here to help and guide.
In a tantrum / challenging behaviour situation think of your child like a bottle of pop. Once it is shaken up you need to release the pressure slowly not just open it quickly. This is also a good way to demonstrate to them feelings and frustrations.
Be Mindful of their age & what is appropriate.
This was one thing I struggled with at first. I have quite high behaviour expectations anyway but both my 2 have been quite early talkers and quickly formed sentences. Despite being tiny dots (9th percentile) they spoke as a much older child would. Quite often I found myself and others expecting a higher level of understanding and sensing of the world than they actually had. Or could reasonably be expected to have. One of the benefits of course was their ability to communicate back to me. Often taking a moment to reflect that S is only 2 and hasn’t developed that skill yet gives me a different perspective on helping her manage her behaviour.
Kids naturally start out wanting to please us. Anything they do that garners positive feedback is a source of joy and pride. Knowing this we can recognise when behaviour doesn’t match our expectation maybe our expectation is at fault. Sometimes this is true, sometimes not but worth checking!
Remember – This Too Shall Pass
Parenting can be difficult – sure it’s amazing, a blessing and the best job in the world. It’s also tough, repetitive, draining and at times the hardest job in the world.
Never is this more true than when children are testing our boundaries or being defiant.
Give yourself time to regroup. Take a deep breath, drop and relax your shoulders and centre yourself. Remember children have a huge capacity to learn by example so if you need to have a mental time in for yourself – do it!
Some days are as frustrating as anything but they pass and the years fly by all too quickly.
So there you have it – we use our version of Time In to reconnect, prioritise time with each other and to work things through together.
I hope by doing so we are building in a strong foundation of availability, presence, trust and openness for the future.
Have you found different peaceful ways to parent? Please comment below.