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21 Tips for Fostering Effective and Connective Discipline

Time-ins versus time-outs. What's the difference? As it turns out, quite a bit. Many adults are familiar with the concept of time-outs, the process of separating the child (withholding attention, the highest motivator for any child) from their parents (often in another part of the house, if home) for the purpose of calming down, thinking about their behavior and regrouping. Overused, time-outs can quickly become ineffective and both the parent and the child can feel bad about the experience.

Time-ins, similar to time-outs, focus on teaching the child to self-regulate their behavior. However, time-ins also emphasize regaining peace and balance of the situation, while the child is within close proximity to their parent. And this physical closeness while calming helps to foster connection and security between the child and the parent.

There are a several things a parent needs to be ‘on board’ with to effectively use time-ins. The first is that they should understand what discipline is - the training or teaching that reinforces the desired specific behavior (self-regulation) and ordered way of life compatible with family and societal expectations. The second is that the parent should embrace a new attitude, that of being child-centered (what the child needs), and focus on how to best address that.

The use of time-ins is well-suited to any child, and can be used for a child of any age. Parents who are bonded with their child are the most effective because their child is attuned to them (emotionally connected).

The parent can explain why the behavior was inappropriate after the child has calmed down, but only if they themselves are calm. Parents who are emotional cannot help their child or address situation.

To use time-ins effectively:

  • Keep your child within proximity of where you are, be it in the kitchen, gardening or on your lap, if very young.
  • 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 (misbehavior).
  • 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; a gentle hand on the shoulder.
  • Offer a hug. Research shows that a 30-second hug releases oxytocin, the ‘bonding’ hormone, and has other emotional and physical benefits, like stress reduction.

Other do’s and don'ts:

  • Avoid showing anger. Your child cannot cool off if you are angry. Model the behavior you want to see in your child.
  • Avoid grabbing or jerking your child. Your goal is not punishment, but helping your child to calm down and understand what behavior was inappropriate.
  • Do not berate your child. Doing so can cause your child to ‘mute’ you.
  • Do not talk about your child's behavior within the hearing of others, especially peers; this causes shame and public humiliation.
  • Do not give your child something to do or watch while in time-in. This time is for reflection.
  • Speak calmly and firmly.
  • If using a place for your child to sit, use the same place and same seat.
  • If you have an older child (five to 10 years of age), consider giving them something constructive to do, like a puzzle or craft. Talk to your child while they create. This can help the older child process their feelings.
  • Use a timer; this indicates you are committed to the time-in. If your child is not or does not feel calm or quiet when the timer goes off (ask), set it again.
  • Remain calm and gentle after the time-in is over. This encourages self-regulation, which is your goal.

Judy M. Miller, MA, is an author, parenting and adoption educator, and mother of four. She makes a point of enjoying the journey.


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