Time-Ins Versus Time-Outs


This is a re-post of an article originally published at Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, weens, and Beyond

My last post was about entitlement, fully embracing that you have the right to parent your child. Entitlement means having the confidence to step up to all of the responsibilities and risks associated with parenting. This includes handling discipline—the training or teaching that reinforces the desired specific behavior (self-regulation) and ordered way of life compatible with family and societal expectations.

When discussing effective discipline methods in class we talk about time-ins versus time-outs. Many adults are familiar with the concept of time-outs—separating the child (withholding attention, the highest motivator for any child) from their parents for the purpose of calming down, thinking about their behavior and regrouping. Overused, time-outs can quickly become ineffective and both the parent and child can feel badly about the experience.

The use of time-ins is better suited to the child who has been adopted because they may not be fully attached to their adoptive parents and/or have anxiety about being separated (especially for children who have “come from hard places” or been institutionalized). Time-ins, similar to time-outs, focus on teaching the child to self-regulate their behavior. However, time-ins focus on regaining peace and balance of the situation while within close proximity to their parent. And this physical closeness while calming helps to foster connection and security between the child and parent.

The parent can explain why the behavior was inappropriate after the child has calmed down, but only if they themselves are calm. A parent who is emotional cannot help their child or address situation. To use time-ins effectively, follow these tips:

  • Keep your child within proximity of where you are, be it in the kitchen, gardening, etc.
  • Give your child some “distance” by avoiding direct eye contact.
  • Eliminate conversation until your child has indicated they are ready to talk about the situation.
  • Gently resume eye contact and positive non-verbal cues (nodding, smiling) as you discuss the situation.

    • Be aware of your tone.
    • Think about your word choices.
    • Correct without shaming.
    • Be specific about your expectations.

  • Get down on your child’s level if necessary, kneeling for example.
  • Touch your child, place a hand on their shoulder.
  • Offer a hug. Research shows that a thirty-second hug releases oxytocin—the “bonding” hormone. Hugs have additional emotional and physical benefits as well, like stress reduction.

Food for Thought: Do you use time-ins with your child? How often do you hug your child? Do you begin the day with hugs?

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.