Time In vs Time Out


Excerpt from The Great Behavior Breakdown by Bryan Post

Time-in is essentially the opposite of time-out. The first truth to recognize is that children don’t act out for attention. Children act out because they need attention. The time-out paradigm says, “Children act out for attention; therefore, you give them some time out to think about their behavior.” The time-in paradigm says, “Children act out because they need attention.” Therefore, you address this by bringing them close to you to regulate their fear and stress. What they need in those moments is not to put their nose in a corner. They need regulatory relating with you. You bring them in; you don’t put them out.

When children act out, they’re demonstrating that they’ve gone outside of their window of tolerance. Their stress and fear cannot be maintained any longer, and it explodes through that window of tolerance to a state of dysregulation, which causes the behavior. When your child is misbehaving, he is communicating to you in this way because he doesn’t know how to communicate in words. He is essentially saying, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, Dad, I don’t know what to do right now. I need your help.” When this happens, the child needs time-in. You do it for a 5-year-old, you do it for a 2-year-old, and you do it for an 18-year-old.

I have said to some parents, “Your child doesn’t need to go to school tomorrow. He needs to spend the whole day with you.” A mother and a 16-year-old spent the whole day together, and the mother emailed me to say, “I can’t believe how powerful that was! It just reorients me to everything that I always knew — that I have to connect with my son in order for him to feel loved, because otherwise he doesn’t feel it.” I created a challenge once to help families with severe behaviors.It was designed to help them within 30 days by receiving nothing more than a designed system of implementation and phone coaching.

I actually gave them a guarantee that they would see a dramatic change. One of the participants was a very courageous mother. I asked her to try time-in. After she did, she called me and said, “I tried time-in the other day on my 7-year-old. I said, ‘Honey, come over here and sit with me because I can see that you’re really stressed out and scared right now. Why don’t you come and sit by Mama?

When you get ready, you can go back and play.’ Usually, we do the time-out for seven minutes, but this time I did the time-in. Do you realize that my daughter sat beside me for 45 minutes? I absolutely could not believe that she sat beside me for 45 minutes.”

Let your child decide how much time-in they need. You don’t give them the minute-for-every-year formula. I don’t know where that came from. But, when children are capable, let them decide. Try it with your child, and you may be surprised. On the other hand, if you say, “As soon as you feel safe, you can go back to play,” and your child runs out to play within two minutes, you will need to make the decision for them. Decide on a time frame based on how you assess the child’s feelings.

Time-in says, “I can see that you’re really scared. Come spend some time with me.” The difference between time-in and a consequence is in the way it’s communicated. It’s in the way the physiology communicates. I don’t advocate for the parent formulated consequences that  most educators and counselors teach. And I also wish to make the point that there is a big difference between a parent formulated  consequence and a natural consequence. Natural consequences occur naturally, thus being natural. You cannot control, prevent, or avoid them, they occur naturally. Natural consequences cannot be taught. For more on this I suggest getting Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control written by Heather Forbes and myself. I believe that most consequences are blame and fear-based, and do not teach responsibility but rather teach reactivity. Remember a consequence is a reaction to an action, so be mindful of what you think you may be teaching  when using some of the common consequence based parenting models. Consequences don’t encourage parents to take responsibility. They encourage parents to blame children for their behaviors because they come from that same paradigm that says children act out for attention.

When you use time-in as a consequence, it looks like this: The parent sees the child misbehave and says, “I can see that you don’t want to play like everyone else right now because if you wanted to play, you wouldn’t be out there fussing and kicking. So, get over here and have some time-in with me.” That’s time-in as a consequence. That’s blame-based.

Time-in as a love-based intervention that creates regulation says, “Whoa! Come here. Hurry, hurry! Wow, I can see that you’re stressed out right now and really scared. Why don’t you hang out here with me for a little bit. When you start feeling a little safer, then you can go back out and play.” There’s a huge, huge difference in the resulting dynamic, but you can see that it’s also a fine line in terms of how you word your response.

When you have a very sensitive child who is easily stressed and easily scared — especially those with traumatic histories — time-in is exactly what they need. Simply say, “Honey, come on over here and stay with me for a little while.” “Stay here with me while I’m doing this or while I’m doing that.” “Stay here on the couch with me and watch my show with me.” “Sit here in the kitchen with me.” “Sit here in the bathroom with me.” “Sit over here on the park bench with me.” You bring the child in because the child needs your attention.

Some children will need a lot of your attention. So, if you have a child that needs a lot of your attention, what you want to practice is containment.

2 thoughts on “Time In vs Time Out

  1. Pingback: Containment -The Foundation for Time-In by Bryan Post

  2. Pingback: Time-In, Time Out & Containment: What’s a Mother (or Dad) To Do?

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