John's Toolbox: Rather than giving a child a time out, the adult gives the child a time in by bringing the child closer to them for a period of time.

Time out is a behavioral strategy based on a belief that kids act out for attention. Time in is a relational strategy based on fulfilling a biological imperative and is based on the belief that kids act out because they need attention.

When a child is acting out, she has gone through her window of tolerance; therefore she needs an adult presence to assist bringing her back into regulation. When a child has shifted into survival brain, we have to remain regulated and provide the brain pathway that is currently being subconsciously blocked in the child.

Use of time outs replicates rejection, which is why attachment resistant children isolate themselves from others. The child’s internal working model of self as unlovable should not be reinforced. When traumatized children are talked to harshly, left alone too much, or try to process things that are above their understanding, they become frightened. If you fear you are going to lose it, seek assistance from another adult until you are back in control of yourself. Time in is only effective when the adult remains in a calm, non-judgmental and respectful state.

A summary of time in vs. time out is provided below:

Time In

  • A calm and regulated adult invites the child sit, stand or be closer with them.
  • Time-in is time together, promoting a cooperative partnership between adult & child, during which communication remains open.
  • There is a honoring of feelings between adult and child, child learns to express themselves more effectively and learns that feelings can be validated.
  • Child experiences a positive resonance from the adult and moves the child into a thinking process vs. an acting out process.
  • Time-in is time to regain connection, balance, centeredness, and mutual well-being.
  • Time-in shows the adult's willingness to help the child. It shows that the adult's ultimate love and care of the child are unconditional and unfazed by any undesired behavior.
  • The child forms an implicit memory of the adult as someone who will can inoculate their fear and stress and not increase it.

Time Out

  • The parent forces the child to the time-out place to extinquish bad behavior and have them think about what they did wrong
  • Is time apart. The child is isolated. The adult withdraws attention from child
  • Invalidates feelings and replicates rejection.
  • Is punitive and there is a shame element. Time out reinforces a child's internal working model of self as unlovable .
  • Withholds attention (and love, as perceived by the child). It shows that the love of the child is conditional.
  • Is about feeling bad. Children are put in time-out as a negative reinforcement of undesired behavior. When children are talked to harshly, left alone too much, or try to process things that are above their understanding, they become frightened.
  • Focuses on right and wrong, instead of increasing the regulatory capacity of the child.
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