Time Out vs. Time In: What’s the Difference and When to Use Each?

“Get in the Time Out Chair!”, “Go to the Time Out Corner!”, “You’re in Time Out! Get to your room!” Time Out has been an age-old consequence that many of us were all too familiar with while we were growing up. In one of its many forms, Time Out has always been a consequence where the child had to leave the room or move to a specific spot in the house. What many parents do not realize is that when asking a child to leave their presence, they are also unintentionally telling the child, “I am not going to be here for you when you are misbehaving.” Overtime this teaches a child that having negative feelings is “bad”, which equates to “I am bad, and nobody wants to be around me.” In all reality, it's not the feelings that we as parents don’t like, it’s the behavior.

So how do I emphasize the behavior over the feelings?

You do this by verbalizing the child’s feelings and implementing Time In.

Okay, so what is Time In?

Time in is the exact opposite of Time Out. Instead of having the child remove themselves from your presence, you find a quiet spot away from others in the home and sit with the child while they calm down. If the child refuses to leave the location you are in, then you state that Time In will occur right there. During Time In, you will remain quiet and present with your child until you have noticed that their “angry face” has disappeared. At that time you will announce that Time In is finished, and that the child can do what they would like.

But they need to know what they did/said/etc. was wrong, right?

Yes, they do, but you will never be able to have a productive conversation with your child when they (and at times you) are not in the right headspace. A few hours after Time In is finished, when your child is their happy-go-lucky self, tell them that you need a minute with them. Go to a quiet place in the house and have that conversation. During the conversation you are not reprimanding, you are exploring the events that took place, identifying your feelings and their feelings, and discussing ways things could have been different.

This all makes sense! So, when do I use Time Out then?

That is a great question! Time Out occurs only when YOU—the parent—feel that you are not in an emotional headspace to be present with your child for Time In. When that occurs, you announce, “We need to take a Pause. Let’s head to our rooms. I will check in on you shortly.” Then you BOTH go to your rooms. When you feel that you are in a better headspace, that is when you check in on your child to see how they are doing. If they are still upset, and you feel that you can be fully present for Time In, then you remain with your child until you notice the “angry face” has disappeared.

By practicing Time In and Time Out as noted above, you are showing your child that you love them no matter how they are feeling or behaving. You are modeling appropriate ways to manage current negative feelings, and later when they are feeling better you are teaching them how to express themselves in a healthy way.