Time-in, Time-out

(I had a lovely mother email me about time-in versus time-out and she bore the brunt of listening to some off-the-top-of-my-head musings, so I just wanted to thank her for inspiring this post…Hopefully this post is my coherent than my initial ramblings…)

Time-in is still getting a lot of press around parenting circles in the United States this summer.  To me, the traditional version of “time-out” complete with naughty chair and one minute for every year of the child’s age is the equivalent of emotional spanking.  You can read what I have written about time-out here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/12/more-about-time-in-for-tinies/  and here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/08/23/discipline-without-distress-chapter-four/  and here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/why-should-i-consider-time-in-instead/ 

I also have just a common-sense kind of beef with time-out:  if your child is that calm that they can go and sit in a chair to “think”, then they probably could have been addressed with other methods of positive discipline to guide them.  I am all for helping to  guide children.  Try some different ideas than time-out here in this post: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/06/23/gentle-parenting-and-boundaries/

The opposite end of this spectrum is that when children are not calm and they are falling apart, this is not a teachable moment.  If you need a time-out as a parent, I am all for that.  However, for the child end of this equation, if your child is so upset and they are melting, how is sending them with their overwhelming feelings to sit in a chair going to help them make the most of this opportunity to learn? Please look at that “More About Time-In For Tinies” post listed above for some tips on handling meltdowns!

I also find that Americans and the Brits are really the only groups where time-out seems to come up at all.  So I think there is a strong cultural component that is influencing the use of time-in in parenting in this country. 

That being said, some people are saying some things about time-out that I wanted to bring out.  In the book “Attached At The Heart”, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of Attachment Parenting International, argue that “time –out” should be re-defined:  “We would like to take back this term, remembering its original intention:  stopping the activity, taking a break, and coming back with renewed perspective.  Keeping this in mind helps parents work on their relationship with their child, rather than focusing on the child’s behavior, and make efforts that strengthen the parent-child connection.”

Some people have argued that time-in is not much of a deterrent toward changing behavior.  What time-in gives a child is the chance to connect.  Time-in is not a punitive strategy;  it is a strategy toward making a teachable moment happen and calming everyone down.  Lawrence Cohen, PhD and author of “Playful Parenting”, has a whole section in this book entitled, “ Choose A “Meeting On the Couch”  Over a “Time-Out” (page 234).  I would encourage everyone to read this book, and this section in particular as he talks about time-outs were supposed to be a humane alternative to hitting children and have now ended up as the ultimate tool of positive discipline but that time-outs “enforce isolation on children who are probably already feeling isolated and disconnected.”  He goes on to talk about how one COULD use time-out in a better way:   1.  By inserting yourself into a child’s play when things are ramping up and play with the child(ren) (to me, this is like the way I say “Hold The Space”  This may work well for sibling fighting!  You could say “Time-out!  I am going to play with you all now too!”  2.  Providing a time-out for YOURSELF (which I am all for!) or 3.  Giving children a cozy place they can go to and calm down in when they choose to go there, for however long they choose to stay there (I find this can work for children coming up on 9, but that many small children just do not understand the concept of being by themselves to calm down; they need your help!)

He also talks about how punishment gets a child’s attention, but how our goal should be to get a child’s attention  in order to connect with that child, not to scare them, not to show them “who is boss”.  To me, every single thing you do and say and construct within the rhythm and environment of your home should be modeling how a calm and compassionate adult functions and lives; not punishment!  My nine-year-old said to me tonight, “Mommy, how did grown-ups get to be so smart about everything?”  She is surrounded by smart, confident, wonderful and caring adults in our neighborhood, our church, through our friends.  These are authentic, real people, not people who pretend to like children and grit their teeth and smile.  She is impressed with these people, and so am I!  She doesn’t need punishment to get attention or to figure out that adults know things; she sees this modeled each and every day!  Keep your eye on your ultimate vision for your children as laid out in your Family Mission Statement and the gentle tools that are appropriate for your child’s age in order to guide them!  If you need help understanding your child’s development stage by age, please do see the posts on the one-year-old, the two-year-old, the three-year-old, etc, all the way through age nine on this blog, and go back to those posts on the Family Mission Statement if you need help there. 

I like this quote from Lawrence Cohen’s book (please do see his website here:  http://playfulparenting.com/index.html – there is now an AUDIO version of his book out, for that I am excited!  I have the book, but I could envision listening to the audio version in my car, etc.)…  He writes, “We are often reluctant to give out love to people who have been bad, even when it’s what they need.  I have always liked the poem by Edwin Markham, which A.S. Neill quotes in the beginning of his book Freedom—Not Licensel:

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,

But Love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!”

Still not convinced?  I am all for boundaries!  You can still be gentle and have boundaries.  You can still love your child and keep boundaries.  In fact, I think if you truly love your child, there MUST be boundaries.    But I am also all for understanding a child’s developmental stage and working with that in a positive way.  As Barbara Coloroso, author of “Kids Are Worth It!  Giving the Gift of Inner Discipline” says regarding discipline:  Leave your child’s dignity intact. 

Help your children by guiding them with LOVE.

Many blessings,


9 thoughts on “Time-in, Time-out

  1. I’ve put “Playful Parenting” on my library que and am very thankful for these other suggested books you’ve quoted. I like the idea of a time in very much and having all this information being a new parent is oh so helpful. I’m currently flipping through many of your posts on the Waldorf perspective and couldn’t be more happy with your advice and suggestions!

    I’m working on finding a rhythm for our family, so thank you for all your help. I look forward to future posts!

  2. I really needed this today. My toddler (almost three) had a rough day. I texted my mom a lot and cried a lot and both my sister and mom came over to help out until my husband got home. I know he’s still young, but I’m starting to get my son used to the idea of calming down with me in my lap and then going from there. I think it’s usually the connecting in that moment that actually lets us move on. And today I created a cozy place in our den for us with pillows and blankets for us to go to as well.

    Thanks. Here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow. 🙂

  3. Great post Carrie.
    We have the Playful Parenting book which I bought for my husband as he wanted a book written by a man so that he could ‘understand and relate more’. I haven’t read it myself yet – I will definately start it soon and look up the chapter reccomended.
    Thank you


  4. I’d love a post on how to take a time out for mothers…my girl escalates when I go in a room and close the door as much as she would if she was in a room with the door closed. Sometimes I need that moment desperately, but am wondering if it’s an internal as much as a literal time out that is in order. And if so, how to do it effectively. Thoughts?

  5. I love the idea of a time-in. I have a daycare in my home (my only way to get to be a semi-stay at home mom). Right now I have 4 children under the age of 3 learning to live in harmony. It is an awesome challenge and one I will admit that I don’t always enjoy. But in your post you talked about joining in the play to help calm a potentially unhappy situation. I have found myself sitting the middle of the room for 10 minute intervals every 20-30 minutes during free play and I have found that my presence has changed the entire dynamic of my group and my mood. I get to really enjoy the children for who they are and engage in authentic relationships with them that are not surrounded by keeping the peace. In addition, my crew’s relationships have become kinder and more loving without ‘guidance’. I can’t wait to read the book on playful parenting. It sounds like the author got into my hopes and dreams and wrote a book to help me fulfill the type of parent I have always wanted to be. Thanks for your rants. They always speak to me!

  6. time outs as “the equivalent of emotional spanking” seems to ring so true! i just can’t seem to bring myself to do these. not that i’ve even had the urge. that said, i have tremendous guilt when initiating the time out for moms. i feel likes it’s me that is totally melting down and needing a break or a space for a moment to re-gather. it’s like, i either just give in and cater to each and every whim, whether or not other obligations are met or not, etc., or i just want to take a moment to gather myself and have like a mantra(?) of sorts to stay focused when the “aware” and “awake” momma steps away in frustration. argh. i guess i’m just echoing kay’s comment in a way, “how to take a time out for mothers?” thank you, by the way, Carrie, for the work you do. you are a rock for our family right now!

  7. Awesome article! My mom and I agree with your form of gentle parenting – now how do we make it mainstream! 😉

    My mom used a”thinking chair”. Basically, when something goes “funny” – they would sit together in the thinking chair and discuss what happened. And then my sister comes up with solutions. When she was done thinking – she’d find my mom and share what she came up with. Their relationship is extraordinary. I’m definately going to use this with my son!

  8. I love this article. The suggestion to rethink the way our culture views time-out is particularly insightful. I think it’s been bent more toward the punishment side of the spectrum than what it was originally intended for.
    I am getting ready to start a gentle parenting series on my site, and I would love to have you submit a post! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts lately.

    • Dionna,
      You are welcome to use any gentle parenting post on my site so long as you credit it to me at The Parenting Passageway.
      Glad you are enjoying this site.
      Many blessings,

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