Welcome to week 4 of our 4-part Positive Discipline series! So far we’ve talked about why using rewards and punishments like time-out are not always effective in encouraging positive behaviour in children.
We have also discussed 10 positive discipline strategies that can be used that don’t control kids.
Today – we are going to look a little closer at one powerful strategy called Time-In that is a positive alternative to Time-Out.
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Before we begin, I want to say that the concept of Time-In is more a philosophy or approach – than a specific strategy with a prescription to be used when a child is “misbehaving.”
It can be used at any time, in any place, when you feel your child (or student) is in need of some guidance or support.
In all cases, the underlying premise is that when a child is struggling with behaviour, they need our guiding and caring presence even more than normal.
“Children need love MOST when they appear to deserve it least.”
~Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting
In just about any situation where you are unhappy with your child’s choice of behaviours, you can use a Time-In instead of a Time-Out.
I know I said there wasn’t a specific prescription for how to do a Time-In, but there are some general guidelines. Here are 6 suggestions from my favourite positive parenting authors and experts.
6 Ways to Use a Time-In
1. RESIST REACTING to the “misbehaviour.”
This is probably the toughest one for most parents – I know it is for me. It’s completely normal for us to feel angry with our children’s or students’ behaviour – especially when it is hurtful or feels disrespectful.
However, when we react to a child’s negative behaviours with more negativity and anger, it usually just exacerbates the situation, leads to power struggles, and can lead us into a punishment mentality instead of a problem-solving one.
Instead, according to Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress, we can try to “Fake it until we make it” and choose to react more positively and constructively with our kids (even if we’re seething inside!).
I often find that taking three deep breaths before I address the situation helps, and sometimes I even need to put myself in a time-out for a few minutes (translate: the bathroom!) while I gather my thoughts if I’m really angry. Read more about a parent time-out here.
You could also try counting to 10, or listening to some music for a few minutes, or even phoning a friend to vent – whatever works to help you cool down.
Unfortunately, sometimes we need to react right away. If our child is hitting or actively being destructive, we need to stop that behaviour immediately. (see this post on Aggressive Kids)
Reminding myself of the reasons why kids “misbehave” (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and replacing my own negative thoughts with positive ones usually helps me keep my cool in these kinds of situations.
2. Remove yourself and child to a NEUTRAL location.
Whether you’re picking them up, or just asking them to join you – it’s a good idea to change the scene a bit.
Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, recommends doing a Time-In that he refers to as “Meeting on the Couch.”
Whether you choose the couch, or your child’s bedroom, or even the kitchen table, the idea is that you find a place where you can sit TOGETHER to work things through (away from the crime scene so to speak.)
3. Look for the underlying unmet NEED or FEELING.
Let’s assume you’re at your neutral location now. Before beginning to connect and talk, it’s important to remind yourself why your child was acting the way they were acting.
Almost every single one of my favourite positive parenting authors agree that kids “misbehave” to get their NEEDS MET or to express and release strong UPSET feelings.
Looking for that hidden cause of the behaviour often helps us to keep our mind on solving the problem by helping them meet their needs and express those feelings in appropriate ways – instead of punishing.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE feelings and needs.
Almost always the best place to start when your child is upset is to acknowledge their feelings and needs (Faber and Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk).
When kids are in the middle of emotional turmoil, they are unable to listen to you, or to think logically about solving a problem. That part of their brain is literally shut down by the flood of adrenaline caused by strong emotions.
To help move them out of this emotional mode, we need to acknowledge and listen to those feelings so they can be released. Only then the child’s higher brain (the part that controls reason and problem-solving) start to function again.
Both Faber and Mazlish, authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Dr. Dan Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, recommend NAMING a child’s feelings to help acknowledge them.
You could say something as simple as, “You seem really ANGRY about…” or “You look so FRUSTRATED right now.”
Sometimes I add something like, “What’s the REAL problem here?” to get my son to begin talking.
Then the key is to listen to what the child has to say without denying the feelings, or trying to minimize them.
As the child vents, and you listen effectively, the emotions slowly begin to dissipate.
Tears are a good sign that the emotions are being released. Hugs are always helpful too if the child is ready for that.
If the child still needs more time to cool off, now might be a good time to play together for a bit. To wrestle, or make a drawing together of what upset him/her, or just to get some Lego out.
The idea is that you connect to help the child calm down and get into a positive frame of mind to problem solve before you try to teach alternate positive behaviours.
For other ideas for connecting, check out our 30 Ways to Joyfully Connect in 10 Minutes post, or our 5 Ways to Connect So Your Kids Feels Loved, or even print off some free fun Connection Coupons to use in these tough moments.
5. DISCUSS why the behaviour is a problem.
After your child has visibly calmed down (and possibly yourself too), it’s time to revisit and discuss the child’s behaviour.
Whether you’re still on the “couch” or are somewhere else, you can invite your child to talk about what happened.
Example: “I can see you’re feeling better now. Is it a good time to talk now about what happened?”
Talk about why the child’s behaviour was a problem. Review rules that were broken or expectations that were not met.
Example: “The problem is that it’s not okay to hit or say hurtful things to others, even when you are upset or angry.”
“The problem is that all the brownies are gone now and there aren’t any for the rest of the family.” (read about this story here).
Keep the focus on how the child can improve next time – reinforcing their responsibility for their own behaviour.
Example: “What could you do next time instead of hitting when you’re that angry?”
or “How could you avoid this from happening again?”
Provide some ideas if they’re stuck.
Discuss the feelings of other people that were affected including yourself to build empathy.
6. Discuss RESTITUTION and reconciliation.
Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline, recommends talking with kids about how they can make restitution or amends, and reconciliation when their actions have hurt others.
I’m a strong believer that adults should not force children to apologize. In my opinion, when we ask kids to do this and they don’t truly feel sorry – it defeats the purpose, and the apology may end up offending the person it’s being offered to when it doesn’t seem genuine.
Instead, you can try asking your child something like, “What can YOU DO to make this situation better?”
When a child comes up with their own solutions, they are usually more genuine and heartfelt – and the child is more likely to feel control over the situation, and their future behaviour. Exactly what we want.
“Correct children with respect and kindness and they will respond back with respect and kindness – if not immediately, then surely in time.” ~the Dalai Lama
That brings us to the end of our Time-In discussion. I hope you found these tips as helpful as I did!
If you’re interested in this approach and want to learn more, I would strongly recommend reading Pam Leo’s book, Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear.
You can also find all of my favourite positive parenting books in our Book List, many of which address this topic.
Follow my Positive Parenting Pinterest board where all our posts will be added and where you will find all kinds of positive parenting resources from around the web!
You can find all our series posts on the Positive Parenting Page.