If you’ve ever babysat, taught, parented, or been an older sibling to a child, you likely have used a Time-Out as a form of discipline. The concept is simple, and a well-familiar one: when a child acts out, you put her in the corner or another room. She is then left there, alone, until she thinks about her actions, understands what she did wrong, or apologizes.
Putting a child in Time-Out may result in crying or tantrums, before the child says she’s sorry. Any well-meaning parent or caregiver may think that the child’s negative reaction and acknowledgment of her misbehavior means she is well-aware of what she did wrong, has accepted her punishment, and has taken back her behavior. When lacking an alternative, we generally enact disciplinary measures that we have been raised with and know best, but Time-Outs aren’t always effective.
Jana Hudiburgh, the director of the YWCA Child Care in Grand Island, Nebraska, and her team are part of the Rooted in Relationships Initiative, which focuses on social-emotional development of children ages 0-8. As part of the Rooted, Jana and her team have attended trainings that teach them evidence-based, Pyramid Model strategies that help build relationships between the children and their caregivers while at the same time decreasing challenging behavior. One of the strategies the YWCA staff have implemented is an alternative technique to replace Time-Outs. She and her staff call this strategy a Time-In.
A Time-In is enacted when a child acts out in harmful behavior such as biting, screaming, or hitting, except there are key differences between a Time-Out and a Time-In.
“In a Time-Out, kids get punished,” said Jana. “A Time-In is a learning experience,” Jana said that she finds Time-Outs to be less effective because a child may not know what they did wrong or how to change the behavior.
Jana said Time-Ins have many benefits, among them teaching social-emotional concepts.
“You sit with the child; you talk through the behavior, not leave them by themselves,” she said.
Jana said that during a Time-In, she and her staff communicate with the child to better understand the reason for the behavior and find a solution.
Jana also said that as part of a Time-In, the child has the option of being alone if that is what they need to calm down, versus being forced to be alone during a typical Time-Out.
As far as Time-In tactics go, however, the staff uses a different approach with toddlers versus school-aged children.
“When [toddlers] are hitting and punching their friends, you pull them aside, you say, ‘Hands aren’t for hitting; we only have nice touches,’” said Jana. “Then, you keep monitoring the behavior.”
For older children, however, her strategy is different.
“With an older child, you discuss what happened and what should have happened. You say, ‘If someone hits, should we hit back? Or do we tell them no? Do we tell the teacher? Can we say it better?’”
Jana said there is a purpose for these discussions. “We want older kids to work through this themselves,” she said. “Just as an adult would.”
Like all of the strategies learned during Rooted trainings, these problem-solving techniques are setting kids up for the social-emotional skills they will need throughout their lives.
Jana said that in addition to helping children communicate with each other, Pyramid Model strategies also help them establish healthy bonds with their caregivers.
“Having a social-emotional bond instead of making it a direct punishment will give them 1:1 time with an adult,” said Jana.
Jana explained that social-emotional support during Time-Ins help kids get in better touch with navigating, understanding, and reflecting on their emotions.
“Social-emotional support is all about what they’re feeling and HOW they’re feeling when someone does something to them,” said Jana.