We’re all intimately familiar with what “timeout” means, and not in terms of sports. The popular parenting method was first coined in the 1950s, and has been a staple in family homes ever since. But with the rise of attachment parenting and more psychological awareness of what works versus what doesn’t work as well, timeout may be on its way out.

The Problem With Time-Outs

Timeouts mean the child themselves is not just on timeout, but so is communication. Parents and caregivers tend to believe that the child will think about their behavior and resolve to do better next time. What really ends up happening with a timeout is the child will likely end up feeling shame about something they can’t control.

Because when small children break rules, they’re not thinking logically. When they’re being defiant or testing boundaries, their impulses are usually to blame. Often, they don’t even understand why they’re doing what they’re doing wrong. So, essentially, punishing them and leaving them confused or with a misunderstanding of the entire incident doesn’t prove fruitful for anyone involved.

Time-Ins are “In”

Instead of sending a child to their room or a quiet place to contemplate whatever they’ve done wrong, parenting experts are now advocating for “time-ins.” They’re encouraging parents and childcare givers to hug the child and talk to them about their feelings, rather than remove them from the situation entirely. 

While time-outs can prevent an incorrect or troubling behavior from happening again in the moment, they can also leave kids feeling lonely or abandoned in their shame. Exploring the “time-in” gives both childcare giver and child the chance to connect and address how to change the problematic behavior.

Here are some helpful ways to implement a “time-in”:

  • Remember to help the child when they can’t help themselves. As the adult and the caregiver, you have the knowledge and approach they need in that moment.
  • Set limits and boundaries, and set them early on. But be realistic; you’ll likely see some pushback or impulsivity.
  • Follow through with your limits and boundaries, especially when the child is demonstrating unsafe or inappropriate behavior. You can remove a child from a situation when they’re spiraling out of control and need a moment to “cool off.” Rather than going the timeout route, just think of it as giving the child a breather.
  • Validate the child’s feelings without judging them. Let them know you’re a safe outlet for their feelings, but explain why they must respect the limits put in place and why they exist (to keep them safe, etc.).

Benefits of Bonding From Time-Ins

Children, especially the very young, are more likely to feel that their needs and feelings are being listened to and considered when an adult offers them that time. Correcting behavior may prove more fruitful if the caregiver or parent establishes a connection first, and then a correction.

Remember, little children often have big feelings they can’t necessarily work through on their own, so a time-in allows them time to process them them with you.