Time out or Time in? What is the best strategy? I wish there was an easy answer to tell you – but the fact is, it’s just not that simple. Many child behaviour experts promote one strategy over the other. Both sides firmly stand behind their beliefs and have research and experience behind them saying their strategy is the best. So what is a parent to do?
As a mom I have used both strategies with my children. Sometimes time out worked; sometimes it was a dismal failure that resulted in escalating screams of distress. I have two daughters. My oldest daughter responded well to time outs. She was a relaxed easy going child. She loved reading and quiet play. She thrived with limits and routines. From a young age she showed us quiet time on her own was a soothing and relaxing experience. She was very cooperative and it was rare I needed to use time out with her. When I did, she understood she had broken a rule, and used being in time out to reset herself and then easily resumed appropriate play. She had an easy going temperament. And to be honest, I thought this discipline thing seemed pretty easy.
Then darling daughter number two came along. From the moment she was born she was more intense. She cried more, she expressed more and was more active. She loved affection, thrived with hugs and cuddles and wanted to always be with people. The more action and the more people the more fun she had. When she got to the terrible twos, I started to use time out as a strategy to deal with misbehaviour. I discovered this was not a strategy for her. She screamed, kicked, and cried in time out. She became inconsolable. There was no calming down while in time out. It was apparent she wasn’t learning anything about how I wanted her to behave. I tried time out several times, it just never worked. What I finally learned was she needed physical touch and love from an understanding adult. She needed to be held to calm down and talked with to understand she had broken a rule or hurt someone else. She needed the security of my calm presence. She needed time in.
There were of course the times I chose a time out for myself. It was me, the parent, who needed to calm down. I sometimes needed to step back from the situation and compose myself. My kids always found it amusing when I said “Mommy needs a time-out”. But in addition to allowing myself to regain control I also role modeled how to calmly cope with strong feelings.
For me, using time out and time in depended on the temperament of my children and their emotional state at the time. Knowing my children well and reading their cues helped me choose positive parenting strategies that worked for them and for me. This video from Parent2Parent, with a researcher/adviser from Invest in Kids, details much more about children’s temperament and it’s importance when you’re dealing with your children.
Remember time out is just one of several discipline strategies. Experts that support the use of time out all agree that time out is only effective when:
- a parent and child have a strong nurturing relationship and live within a warm, loving, and supportive family environment.
- it is used in combination with many other positive parenting strategies.
- children are over 2 years of age
- used for short periods of time (1 minute per year of age to a maximum of 5 minutes).
- used sparingly and only for serious misbehaviour
- used in a non-punitive way
- the parent is calm and in emotional control.
My confidence in dealing with misbehaviour increased dramatically once I learned a few other positive parenting strategies and knew to look for clues and patterns that my daughters were frustrated or on the verge of melting down. It was part detective work, part trial and error. However, planning ahead and using positive discipline strategies like redirection, problem solving and logical consequences helped prevent a lot of unwanted behaviour.
Unfortunately there is no magic answer. I’ve shared my own experience and many links to what some of the “experts” say. I believe it comes down to knowing your child, knowing yourself and having a loving nurturing relationship with your child. With those things in place you can help guide and teach your child the behaviour you value and want them to have.
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