When it came to the principle of time in/ time out, I thought I understood it thoroughly. But I was making one substantial mistake.
Overall, my almost four-year-old is an agreeable, earnest, and incredibly kindhearted child. But every so often, life gets the best of him. Whether he’s tired, out of his routine, or aggravated by some other factor, he becomes borderline impossible to coach through what he’s feeling.
Then, it happens.
Typically, my daughter will ask for space. Frustrated, my son gets closer. I intervene by getting down to his level and reiterate his sister’s request. I suggest an alternative to being shoulder to shoulder with his sister. He responds with a primal grunt and gets closer once more. I give him a warning and tell him if he can’t respect his sister’s wishes I will take him upstairs to his bedroom.
He’ll scream and either get closer to her or hit her.
Then, I bring him to his room and try to stay with him.
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Why I stay with my son: Time In vs. Time Out
When it comes to the disciplinary practice of time in/ time out, researchers, developmental psychologists, and family therapists advise against them. Traditionally, timeouts are when a parent puts a child in the corner or sends her to their room. Researchers describe this as ‘love withdrawal‘ because the child is left without the parent.
This form of punishment is ineffective for a number of reasons. The main one is that timeouts are mainly used when a child shows a lack of self-control. It is unfair and counterintuitive to send a child away when he or she is struggling the most. Research has also found that children internalize our values the best when we use reason. Because of this many parenting experts now use the term, ‘time in.’ Really it is the exact same idea of timeouts except the parent is with the child during the timeout.
So, I try my best to be there for him.
[Related reading: 5 Positive Parenting Alternatives to Timeout]
The problem? My son doesn’t want me to stay.
So we enter into this cycle of him screaming for me. I say that I’m here for him to which replies he wants space. Then he screams for me again. I wait on the stairs outside of his room as the cycle plays itself out. Eventually, he cools down. Then I talk to him and we go downstairs.
Every. single. time. he starts having a rough time, I know we are in for this same ordeal.
[Related reading: Calm Down Corner: Why have one and what’s in ours]
Until something pretty big changed…
I was on vacation with my family when I stumbled upon this online parenting conference. One of the speakers walked through the concepts of time ins. Her biggest piece of advice aside from the obvious, no timeouts thing? Don’t lecture.
Huh? I thought. How will my kids know they’ve done wrong if I don’t tell them?
Unconvinced, I decided I would try the advice of the child specialist just once.
The next time my son lashed out, I brought him upstairs. But instead of lecturing him each step of the way, I said nothing. Upon doing this, I realized how much I say to him before we even hit his bedroom. When we got into his room, I hugged him and, again, said nothing. He was already starting to calm down.
“You’re pretty angry, huh?”
Sobbing, he nodded.
This was the first time I was able to stay with him. Moreover, it was the first time I had gotten more than a primal, angry grunt as a response.
I couldn’t believe it.
After a little more time and after he’d calmed down more, I asked him what he is supposed to do when he’s upset with his sister.
Through sniffles, he admitted, “Ask for help.”
“That’s right, love. All I need you to do is say you need help and I’ll help you.”
Here’s the thing… Young kids aren’t so good at the self-regulation thing, but they are keenly aware of when they’ve done wrong. In testing out the advice I’d heard, I ended up realizing how much I inundate my son. Not only that, I was lecturing him when he was at his worst. In putting myself in his shoes, it was obvious I wouldn’t be receptive to advice or coaching if I was especially angry.
I can’t say that this one change has altered everything. I don’t know that the next time my son needs to go to his room he’ll want me there or that he’ll respond when I speak to him. What I do know is that in not lecturing, I’ve found a much more effective way of parenting.
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