Why Should I Consider Time-In Instead?

Okay, I have to be very honest with you all and admit I really cannot stand time-out for children under the age of 7.  The rationale that many parents use for time-out is that “my children need to think about what they have done.”  This, to me, contradicts the view of a small child under the age of 7 from a Waldorf educator’s point of view.  From a Waldorf perspective, we do not expect small children to be able to reflect on what they have done in a HEAD manner – we would, however, expect them to help the situation by using their BODIES and their HANDS.  That is a big difference.

The other rationale that parents use for time-out is for when children behaving badly and out of control.  The Waldorf perspective would point to the fact that small children under the age of 7 need their parents’ physical presence, gentle words and gentle hands to help them come back to their bodies.  Sometimes the best place for that is to provide something rhythmical to do, or to provide our bodies in a rocking chair for the rhythmical activity.

From an attachment parenting standpoint, there are attached families who do consider the use of time-out consistent with their philosophy. However, I ask you to respectfully consider the following:

“Sometimes parents are advised to use a time-out instead of spanking their kids – as though these were the only two options available. The reality, as we’ve seen, is that both of these tactics are punitive. They differ only with respect to whether children will be made to suffer by physical or emotional means. If we were forced to choose one over the other, then, sure time-outs are preferable to spankings. For that matter, spanking kids is preferable to shooting them, but that’s not much of an argument for spanking.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 65-66.

Alfie Kohn discusses the history of time-out: “Time-out is actually an abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement. The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals….When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, your love. You may not have thought of it that way.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 26-27.

So how about some tools to try instead:


Environmental Control – child-proof your house so you do not have to keep saying “no” to everything and policing everything

Going outside and having

Having a stronger rhythm to your day of interesting things to do

Listening to your child

Empathy – now with WORDS for the under 7 crowd, but with smiles, hugs, and warmth

Time-In with you, holding

If you cannot hold your child, have the child near you while you are doing something rhythmical and start to tell a small story.  Many times this is enough to shift the mood in the space.  Then you can later go back to the situation and try to make it better.

If YOU need to gain control and take a small break outside that is different than sending a small under 7 child away!

Also, there is nothing wrong with giving the child an option to go to her room or another place when she is upset – as long as it is an option and the child controls the leaving, where to go in the house, what to do, when to come back).

You may agree or disagree with me, but these are just a few of my thoughts from my little corner of the world.

15 thoughts on “Why Should I Consider Time-In Instead?

  1. I agree with you! It’s a shame that time-out is so often touted when my concern is that it can make a child feel even worse and if a child is behaving inappropriately there is usually some sort of reason for this (whether it be that they are tired, hungry, need a bit of a run-around, or sometimes after some of your time).

    I have to admit I sometimes use time-out for me though – sometimes I need to just step outside the room for a count to ten to regain my composure!

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  3. I really like your blog, thanks. I’m just wondering, what happens at the age of 7? I only have a toddler but we have been wondering why/how parenting changes at the age of 7 and whether AP parents would really start to use time out then? Does it ever become effective, do you think? Interested in your thoughts, thanks!

    • I think there are many shifts along the way – many parents find 3 difficult as the “I” emerges; then the six/seven year old change (you can search what happens during these years using the tag box)….I work in seven year cycles, and primarily work in this blog to help parents understand the consciousness of the under-7 child which is why this post referred to the under-7 child. Time-out, to me, is not effective for a seven or eight year old either. Typically there is a flood of emotion that needs to be dealt with, and banishing a child somewhere for having a flood of emotion really doesn’t provide connection or help solve the problem. If the child needs to pull themselves together or you need to pull it together, than I think it is fine to have a cooling off period so we can all be calm together. Even seven and eight year olds though, do not really have logical thought. so less words are still better. In seven year cycles, a big shift is seen at the nine year change (you can also search for that on this blog), and then logical thought is seen coming in closer to fourteen years of age.
      In other words, a long way to go. 🙂
      So, just in short, I would say the traditional “go to your room time out with one minute for every year of your age” is not an effective parenting tool. However, sometimes both parties just need some time to calm down so they can connect again.
      Hope that helps,

  4. Thanks, that does help. 🙂 Thinking about a 7 year old with anger troubles being sent to time out for 10 minutes…it really does not address the issue of the anger at all. Just an ‘attempt’ to respond to each individual “happening”. What you say makes sense!

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  6. Carrie, i have just been navigating through your posts regarding time in with tinnies. they are so timely for me to read! thankyou. i have been ‘following’ judy arnall for a while on twitter – time to read her book! i am just ordering it now!

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  8. Just wondering how a time-in would work with more than one child around. I have just recently started changing my approach with my 3 year-old since I realized Time-outs and such were not working. He is a very sensitive and strongly emotional child. Holding him and loving him is helping so much more. The problem I have is that our 11-month old always comes over when the older one needs a hug. This then creates more problems and fights. They can’t seem to share my attention. Any suggestions??

    • Meaghan, This is very normal. Three is so little and 11 month olds are so imitative, they just want to be loved too! I find often having a place big enough for the whole family to sit together, or standing up and holding the three year old whilst the little one is at my knees often worked okay..it may not be ideal, but okay 🙂
      Comforting and loving and connecting is the first step toward being able to effectively guide your child..You are on the right track! Be proud!
      Many blessings,

  9. Lovely. I really got a lot from reading Unconditional Parenting, too. Wondering, though, from a Waldorf standpoint, can you give me some examples of ‘rhythmic activities’ I can do to help soothe my child? What are we talking about here, exactly?

    • Hi Gaurisunshine – I think work! There are so many posts about rhythmic work on this site, demechanizing your home so there is actual work to do. RHythmic care of the home, of what we do in our homes to nurture each other. That is the foundation of a WAldorf Kindergarten. Now, for children who needed things in the moment to calm down, wrapping the children in a large silk as a burrito and rolling and pretending they are a sandwich with different toppings (downward pressure), singing and rocking if they are small enough, those kinds of things can have a place as well. But rhythm in and of itself can carry so much discipline with a small child. THere are many, many posts on rhythm on this blog as well if you just put rhythm into the search engine.
      SO glad you are here and exploring!
      Welcome and many blessings to you,

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