Creative Child

How to Use Time-In as a Discipline Alternative to Time-Out

by Rebecca Eanes


Using this knowledge, the first phase of time-in is to actually calm the child’s brain down. We want him to have access to his higher brain, and that can’t happen until he’s unlocked from the reactive lower brain, and when he’s alarmed, he’s reactive. Social isolation or the threat of social isolation causes alarm. By approaching your child with empathy, calmness, and gentleness (using your own higher brain) you will appeal to his higher brain. Mirror neurons at work! So, you will approach the child using your mature higher brain and invite him into your lap into a safe space with you. In this space, it’s a good idea to have several different calming tools for your child, such as a calm-down jar, books, crayons and paper, etc. However, if you aren’t at home, or you haven’t get set up such as space, your loving arms is certainly good enough.


This first phase does two things. First, it removes the child from the situation or interrupts the problem behavior. That’s the same thing a traditional time-out does, right? It communicates “stop, this isn’t acceptable.” Time-in goes a step further here because rather than leaving the child in a corner or chair, you are now going to help him grow a better brain and learn more acceptable behavior.

But wait, you say! Isn’t this a reward? Read Does Time-In Reward Children?


Once you have him calmed down (I use “him” often because I raise boys and it’s sort of the default setting in my brain) you move on to phase 2 by appealing to his higher brain. You do this by asking questions. “Do you see Sophie’s face? She looks sad because you pinched her. I wonder how we can help her feel better?” Don’t try this until he’s calm because it just won’t work. Let him offer suggestions on how to right his wrong. This is teaching him problem-solving skills and placing the responsibility of reparation on him. He’s learning that he needs to fix the problem he created. If he can’t come up with anything, then you can offer suggestions. “Do you think saying I’m sorry will help? Yes? Okay, we’ll go do that, but the next time you get upset with a friend, you can either say ‘I’m mad right now’ and walk away or you can take 3 big dinosaur breaths. Let’s practice those dinosaur breaths. Good. Let’s go apologize now.”

Time-out = Child learns a behavior is unacceptable and sits in a corner for 3 minutes.

Time-in= Child learns a behavior is unacceptable, learns self-regulation skills, takes responsibility for the behavior, and learns acceptable ways to handle a situation. Plus his connection with you isn’t broken, and he isn’t left feeling bad about himself.

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