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Parenting Toddlers

Want to Practice “Time-In” Instead of “Time-Out”? Here’s How.

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I will be the first to admit, the transition from one to two kids has been less than pleasant. My heart became fuller than I ever imagined, but my patience became shorter than I had ever thought possible. My toddler, already a challenge from the second she was born, had really ramped it up.

This was also happening while I was doing my best to recover from my postpartum anxiety. I had a too-snuggly infant, a toddler hell-bent on pushing every button ever, and time-out was doing absolute shit for our problems.

Time-out has never been our first response. Distractions, positive reinforcement, anything else. But hello. When my toddler is impulse-biting my infant, I start running out of options. When listening capacities are at literally zero, what am I supposed to do? Time-out sounds great, but with my child, all it did was add to the chaos. Screaming, stomping, spiraling.

Do you know how long my child can tantrum? I finally caved at 30 minutes. I was crying, she was crying, and it wasn’t working. I can only imagine how long she would go if I let her.

My child wasn’t being left alone. I was there the whole time when she was in “time-out.” I was there to support her, offer cuddles, ask her if she wanted to talk or even hit some freaking stuffed animals. It didn’t matter. Time-out was failing, and I’ve been hearing all about this fancy new concept called “time-in.”

Now, as far as I was concerned, I was doing everything that “time-in” advocates talked about. My child wasn’t being isolated. There was no yelling (most of the time) and I was using all the right language. Wasn’t I?

Obviously not for my feisty girl.

I was venting to my friend about the latest incident of rage peeing (it’s a thing for potty training gremlins who realize the power they now hold) and we talked about this genius idea of a quiet reading corner. I did ask my child if she wanted to read stories, which of course was a screaming “no,” and that’s when I realized I was giving my toddler the wrong kind of power.

To achieve the “time-in” that I was searching for, I gave the choice. Take a “time-out” or read three stories.

Holy shit.

It has made the biggest difference.

Obviously, my toddler is going to do everything to avoid time-out, and is three stories really that bad? Nope. And what happens is magical.

Often, my child will sit and read for up to 30 minutes by her own choice. Not only has she completed her “punishment” for whatever transgression, but her mindset has calmed. It’s the perfect distraction and the most amazing reset. She comes out of it a different kid.

I’m not saying every child loves to read, so this “time-in” strategy isn’t going to work for everyone. A child could color 3 pages in their favorite coloring book. Stack blocks 10 blocks high. Whatever quiet activity keeps your child calm, use it. A consequence doesn’t have to be a chair in the corner, and it’s not worth a screaming battle. You’re not trying to “win” here, so let the time-out go and reach for a calmer solution.