Transform Your Time-Outs To Time-Ins! Guest Post from Dr. Laura Markham

peaceful parent happy kidsWe are so pleased to have Dr. Laura Markham guest posting on the blog today. 

Do you use Time-Outs? They’re certainly better than spanking to show your child you’re serious about whatever limit you’re setting. But time-outs aren’t the best way to help kids want to behave and cooperate. Why?

1. Time-Outs don’t teach children to regulate their emotions.  You’re giving your child the message that his emotions are unacceptable in your presence – and that he’s all alone to learn to manage them.

2. Time-Outs put kids on the defensive, so real remorse is less likely. What you want is to teach your child to recognize his mistake and make things better, whether that’s cleaning up a mess or patching up a relationship.

3. Time-Outs create power struggles. Most kids don’t go to time-out and sit for the allotted time without threats.

4. Time-Outs shame kids and make them feel like they’re bad people who must be punished. What’s more, your child concludes that you’re obviously not on his side. The result? He’s less likely to WANT to cooperate with you and more likely to misbehave.

5. Time-Outs only work while you can still drag your child.  Meanwhile, you’re missing the opportunity to teach your child the art of finding win/win solutions.

Luckily, you don’t need to use time-outs.  There’s an alternative—Time-In!

Here’s how it works. Your child is acting cranky and belligerent. Finally, she throws her cup across the room. Should you send her to Time-Out?  No.

Instead, you realize that this behavior is a red flag and take pre-emptive action to help her. If she could articulate what’s going on, she might say “Hey, Mom, Dad, I’m having a really hard time here. I woke up feeling grumpy. You ran out of my favorite cereal. You rushed me off to preschool, and it took a lot for me sit quietly so much of the day and follow directions. My friend told me I couldn’t come to her birthday party if I didn’t play the game her way. And then I finally get home and dinner isn’t even ready yet and that little brother you think is so cute is always on your lap, while you tell me to wait just a minute! I wonder if anyone around here even cares about me at all! Maybe you got a replacement because I’m just not good enough for you!”

Of course, she can’t say that. So she acts it out with her difficult behavior. Your daughter has been stuffing down fears and tears all day long, waiting for a safe chance to let them out. Now all those emotions are coming up, so she’s “acting (the feelings) out.”

But you realize that what she really needs is a chance to get all those tears and fears off her chest. So you say “Cups aren’t for throwing. You’re having a hard time, aren’t you, Sweetie?  Let’s go to our chill spot and snuggle for a bit.”

You go to a specially designated spot that feels safe and cozy, and snuggle up. You connect, which may be all your child needs to pull herself together. If you can, you get her giggling, because laughter vents those stored-up anxieties almost as well as tears.

If none of that is quite enough, your child will let you know by escalating her whining and belligerence. That means she still needs to cry, and she’s trying to pick a fight with you so she can move into tears. So at that point, you calmly, kindly, set a limit: “You’re tearing the book pages, Sweetie…Books are precious, we don’t tear them…I see you’re upset…We’re going to put the book away for now.”  You put the book out of reach, and she bursts into tears.

Remind yourself that emotions aren’t bad, they’re just part of being human. Hold her if you can, or stay close. You don’t have to DO anything; your job is simply to create safety so she can feel all these emotions and let them go.

If she yells “Don’t look at me” then respect that. If she yells, “Go away!” you can say “I will move back a bit, just to here…I won’t leave you alone with these scary feelings.” Use your voice as a bridge to tell her she’s safe, you’re right there. Don’t talk much. Don’t ask her what’s wrong. Don’t take anything she says personally. Talking forces kids into their heads. Let her stay in her heart and unburden her tears and fears.

Soon, the storm will pass. Your child will be in your arms, hugging you and wanting to know that she’s still loved.  She’ll feel so grateful that you were there for her and so connected to you. You’ll see that by her sunny, cooperative attitude for the rest of the evening.  She’ll even be ready to clean up the cup she threw and wash off the wall.

Wondering if you should punish her now, so she’ll learn not to throw the cup?  Completely unnecessary, and in fact it would backfire. She’s already learned that she doesn’t want to throw the cup next time, and some other crucial lessons:

1. Emotions may feel overwhelming, but once you feel them, they pass away, and the sun comes out again. (Becoming comfortable with our emotions is the beginning of emotional intelligence.)

2. My parents love and accept me just as I am, including when I’m feeling difficult emotions.(Feeling “good enough exactly as I am” is the beginning of self-esteem.)

3. When you’re upset, it’s good to take a few minutes to chill and connect with yourself and work through it, before you continue on with your day.(She’s learning skills to regulate her emotions, and therefore her behavior.)

4. My parents are on my side. I don’t actually need to throw my cup, even when I’m really upset. My parents are always ready to listen. (Strengthening the trust in the parent-child partnership so the child WANTS to cooperate.)

5. After you calm down, you can always figure out a way to make things better. (The first step in accepting that nobody’s perfect, but we can always admit, and repair, our mistakes.)

Time-in is not a punishment. It’s a way of helping your child process her big emotions and calm down, so she’s ready to problem-solve.  Try it for a month. You’ll be so pleased with the results, you’ll never go back to time-outs again.

Laura MarkhamDr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, and the editor of, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years. You can find Dr. Laura on Facebook, Twitter (@DrLauraMarkham) and at where you can sign up for her free daily inspiration email.