More About Time-In for Tinies

I cannot stand time out for small children.  You can see some back posts related to that discussion here:    and here:  

I am all for a ‘time-out” for the mother if the mother needs it to pull herself together though, so please don’t misinterpret the fact that I do think both parties need some time to pull themselves together.  However, dragging a  child in the heat of the moment to sit in a chair for one minute for each year of age seems to not accomplish much.  A child is not going to  think like an adult, and sit there and reflect on what has happened and how they can make it better.    (I am also all for objects going into time-out!  “Hmm, I see those scissors chasing your sister’s braids around the room.  I think they need a break!”  :))

Someone recently commented to me though, that “time-in” didn’t seem to work very well either ; trying to hold a kicking and thrashing child who is trying to hit for time-in just doesn’t work well.

You are correct, dear reader, and I hear mothers everywhere sighing relief at this notion.  Thank you for bringing it up because I have more to say!

Some children do not respond well to any sort of “containment” when they are upset.  What this situation sounds like is more of “How does one handle a temper tantrum?”

So here are Carrie’s Rules For Handling Temper Tantrums in all their glory, and please do take what resonates with you. Every child is different and you know your child best! 

1.  You must be calm yourself and  not lay down on the floor next to your child and have a temper tantrum.  Collect yourself and breathe!  Take your own time-out if you need to!   You must be the warm and friendly wall your child can bounce off of, because your child is scared and doesn’t want to be out of control. 

2.  You must not be so, so, so connected toward trying to get the child to stop.  The child is in a flood of emotion, a torrent of emotion, and sometimes all that can happen at first is that the emotions must come out.  And because a three or four year old is tiny (a good age for sitting on laps!), the emotion comes out in this “immature” way of a temper tantrum (although, seriously, isn’t an adult slamming a door or putting their fist down on a table the equivalent of an adult temper tantrum?)   Aletha Solter writes about this torrent of emotion here:  I don’t always agree with everything she says, but I think many of her points are valid. 

3.  Move the child if the child is hurting your property or you or himself.  I like outside on the grass if it is possible to get there.  More on this below.

What can you do if your child is hitting you and kicking you?  You move, of course, but I do know some children that need to be held even through their hitting and kicking and such.  Only you can determine what works best for your child and what brings your child peace at that moment.  My own children never liked being held during a temper tantrum, at least not until some of the torrent of emotion was released.

Outside can be a safer place if you have grass.

4. The best thing often to do is to be nearby but also doing something repetitive, like folding something, etc.    I know that sounds awful, and  I am not suggesting you completely ignore your child, but a little bit of not looking is okay if you know your child can’t hurt himself or herself.  The rationale here is to provide the child some reassurance that Mommy is still here, Mommy loves you, and the rhythm and beauty of life are right here and even though you don’t feel well right now, you will feel better in a minute.  That is what must be in your very gesture and in your very soul, your belief that this will be okay in a moment,  as you are nearby and ready to help. 

Some children do respond well if they are having a giant temper tantrum and all eyes are on them and a parent tries to rub their back, but I have known many who really did just need to crawl under the table and get it out.  No shame in that, but you are not allowed to talk them through it all and intrude on it if they just need to get it out! 

I know this is different than what many mainstream parenting articles say, but I am only telling you what has worked for me and for so many of the families I have worked with and observed.  Telling Johnny in the middle of this torrent of emotion, “You are sad because you wanted a cookie and it’s near dinner time and you can’t have a cookie but maybe you can have a cookie later…”  just doesn’t seem helpful for the moment.  Johnny can’t even hear  you right now as emotion pours out of every pore.

We can be so uncomfortable with our children’s tears or anger, but why?  These are emotions that are every bit as valid as happiness and joy.  They are not our emotions either, we are separate from our child.

4. When things subside a bit, perhaps then you can gently rub a child’s back, hold the child and rock and connect through touch with not so many words.  This is the time-in part – instead of sending your child away for a “time out”, connect with that beautiful and small child and have a time-in.

5.  Some children who have very long temper tantrums and who can’t seem to come out of it themselves well may need to be scooped up and you both go outside.  Sometimes it just seems that change in scenery, soft grass, makes the world a better place.  You stay nearby too!  Some children do need your physical help to come back into themselves, and so only you can experiment with holding your child at what point during the temper tantrum. 

Some children who are at the edge of being done with a temper tantrum but not ready to be held or looked at do well with you telling a story to your dog, to your plant, to your fish (just not directly to your child, LOL).  I used to tell a lot of stories to our giant Leonberger about when she was a puppy and then the child would chime in (eventually) with this or that…

Changing the scene can be important in public as well.  Be prepared to abandon your shopping cart if you are out, or be okay with going out to the car or yard if you are at a friend’s house or whathave you.

6. Once the temper tantrum is over, get your child something to eat!  Their blood sugar will be low.

7.  You  don’t need to go back and verbally re-hash with your child what caused the tantrum, unless there is something the child needs to do to make restitution.  It seems as though many tantrums are over things that are actually small and happen because the child is tired, hungry, thirsty, over-stimulated.  The hunger, thirst, over-stimulation is the NEED that needs to be fixed, the NEED underneath the behavior.  Unfortunately, you cannot fix it in the middle of the torrent of emotion.

8.   If your child is a consistent temper tantrum mess, check out the physical and emotional things going on…. Getting molars?  Getting sick? Getting enough sleep?  Napping enough?  Going too many places?  Parents stressed?  Family life changes?  Are they eating enough?  That is your job to figure out.  Parenting is always a bit of detective work!

Tantrums will eventually calm down, some children seem to have the height of them at ages 3 or 4 (some at age 2)….Like so many other things in parenting, this too shall pass. 

Hope that helps,  please take what resonates with you!


20 thoughts on “More About Time-In for Tinies

  1. Love this post! With my son (he’ll be five next month) we thought we had escaped the tantrums because they didn’t come when everyone says they normally do (at two or 18 mos as is the case with my daughter). Little did we know that they were just postponted until later. It’s been a bit frustrating since they’re getting a bit worse with the changes in our family lately (a new baby). Thank you for the reminders/ideas!

  2. carrie, yet another timely post. we haven’t ever officially used “time-out” in our home, as in the manner used in the way we generally think of it. your statement that young children can’t process things like adults can really made my eyes perk up, because that very thing is what I have been feeling with my own children.
    We would have the child go to her room, but to calm down, read a book, just breath, you know? At the time, it seemed to be great….except now, she’s 9 and really can’t deal with her emotions really well. I am wondering how best to work with her strong nature on this?
    thank you!

  3. What a perfectly timed post! Today at school a child had a complete tantrum — screaming and crying for a good long while. It’s been awhile since I had to worry about tantrums at home, so it was good to have a little reminder of what they’re like and what to do. Being able to detach a bit is so key! I had the hardest time with my oldest when he had tantrums because I took them so personally (and to this day we struggle because I’m still learning this with him). Get an emotional child and an emotional mother together and things come unglued pretty quickly!

  4. Great post! My son is not quite 1.5 so we have not hit full-on tantrum stage yet, but these are good tips to keep in mind. I loved the idea of putting an object in time-out.

    I also read a great idea in a Waldorf article that I can’t remember now, about a “kindness ball.” The teacher had a special copper ball in a bag. When someone was being too rough with others or otherwise misbehaving, the teacher would say “uh oh, it looks like you might need the kindness ball, to let the kindness in your heart move down to your hands.” Then the child could enjoy the tactile experience of handling the ball during a time-in. The teacher also suggested adding bits of ‘kindness’ to the bag containing the ball, whenever anyone had any to spare. I thought this was a really nice idea.

  5. Great reminders!! And also very timely. I seem to be having the hardest time keeping my 27 mo. old son from being hungry. I think this is causing much of the escalated emotions in his newest extremely independent stage. “my do it myself” “no help” etc He just won’t stop and eat. I keep snacks handy and we have regular meal times, but if it isn’t his idea right now he refuses it. Whe he gets “out of control” he kicks into a physical over-drive and pushes away, kicks, and throws things. I’m finding it very difficult to detach and become the calm in the storm.
    On overstimulation. I love the idea of limiting outings, playdaes, and those sorts of things and we have been doing this for several months now. We have a playdate twice a month and go to the library every two weeks. Thats pretty much it. His reaction to the playdates has really changed recently. He used to go in and make himself at home with whatever toy he wanted, play, and observe. Now he is cautious and seems very aware of the other kids and their actions and he gets very worked up almost like he’s nervous. Is this normal? Are we doing too many outings or too few? There are 2 boys in the group that are volatile (they hit or bite). He stays away from them completely, but is very affected when they hurt someone else. He even wakes up from nap talking about it as though he had just dreamed about it. I’m seriously considering abandoning the group, but then I get the comment “you can’t always protect him”.
    Sorry this is so long, just wondered what you thought.
    Thank you!!

  6. Shelly,
    In the past, it used to be that more social things started when children were four or five. A two year old is really more into parallel play than playing with others, and I would also venture to say it sounds like the hitters and biters in your group are feeling over-stimulated by the group experience. I think there is a true art to having a “playdate” with children all of the same age. I wrote about my feelings on playdates for the four year old here:

    I took some grief about this post, but I don’t feel badly about it because that is how I feel about it all, so please feel free to read that and see how it resonates with you.

    No, you can’t “protect your son forever” (and don’t you hate it when people say that! Like a 27 month old doesn’t deserve to BE protected??!! Where is that Kingdom of Childhood?? but you can always, always, do what your son needs. 🙂

    Play really starts to come in around age 3 or so, perhaps some of the back posts on fostering creative play would be helpful as well. I think mothers in this day and age, if they themselves need support and need to talk to other mothers and go to playdates and playgroups, it is what it is, but let’s know we need to keep a close eye on our children and know that it truly is more for us than them (which is okay if that is what we mindfully decide!! 🙂 Again, it seems as if we are putting older children expectations on these little 2, 3, 4 year olds instead of meeting them where they are (parallel play, beginning of fantasy play)…It also seems as if we set the stage rather early for the importance of peers over family….Maybe that is a stretch, but it has occurred to me…

    Take what resonates with you, of course.

    Carrie 🙂

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  13. Thank you for this article … 🙂 I am the mother of a 10 month old and I am starting to read now about how to handle these areas!!

    I never knew WHAT to do! Now I do. I love the examples. I needed those badly!!!

    I especially like the one about going outside and also #5, I know of a mother who gets SOOOO upset – from the time her child was just 2, that she would yell, say really mean things, and than once the child calmed down, she told him she didn’t want to talk to him and that she was mad at him 😦 It always broke my heart and felt wrong. I just didn’t know why. Now I do. It makes sense and I just needed examples of what to do 🙂 Thank you.

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  16. As weird as it may sound, I was reading this for help with my toddler, but now I’m thinking it may work just as well for my husband’s tantrums. LOL Number 7 may be the key to it all.

    • Jessica! That’s awesome! I do think it all comes down to how we communicate and respond, no matter what the age!
      Blessings, Carrie

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