Time-in versus timeout: which works better for your child?

At the ripe old age of 58, timeouts are having a midlife crisis.

The parenting method was first coined in the late 1950s to curb disruptive behaviors, and it had its heyday recently, thanks to reality TV show "Supernanny," which implemented timeouts for most parenting problems.

But with the rise of attachment parenting, a parenting philosophy that advocates calm, gentle parenting, many parents are veering away from timeouts in favor of a new method: time-ins.

Instead of banishing the child to a quiet place to think about what he's done wrong, parents hug the child and talk to him about his feelings, said Crystal Antonace, a mother of two who practices time-ins and is in the process of becoming the attachment parent leader for the Chicago Attachment Parent International organization.

"Time-ins are essentially the time a child needs his parents the most," Antonace said. "When a child has a tantrum or acts out emotionally over something seemingly insignificant to an adult, he needs connection to reaffirm feelings and to understand that frustration happens and is a part of everyday life."

The parent centers the child and redirects him toward a behavior that's more appropriate, she said.

The time-in method arrived at a time when timeouts were under fire because parents failed to use them properly.

A March study published in Academic Pediatrics found that 85 percent of parents of children ages 15 months through 10 years were using the timeout method incorrectly.

The biggest mistake parents made was talking and explaining during the timeouts, said Andrew Riley, lead author of the study and pediatric psychologist at Oregon Health & Science University. The timeout needs to be boring, and the explanation of it can wait until it's completed, he said.

"You're trying to reduce the stimulation," Riley said. "Attention is stimulating, and the talking contaminates the timeout."

As soon as the timeout is completed, parents should look for opportunities for a time-in: Praise the child's behavior, talk to her and make this a positive experience by showing her what she can do correctly next time.

There's no convincing research of problematic results due to timeouts, as long as you're doing it the right way, Riley said.

Still, some parenting experts are pushing back against a method they feel is too harsh for little minds.

Joanna Faber, New York-based co-author of "How to Talk to Little Kids Who Listen," said the biggest problem with timeouts is that the punishment doesn't address the problem.

For example, if an older child punches a younger child, and the parent responds with a timeout, the parent likes to imagine that the older child is sitting in the chair thinking that she should be more patient with her younger brother.

"But in actuality, that's probably not happening," Faber said. "They're probably sitting in the chair, seething with resentment. It doesn't touch the problem."

A better solution would be to take a timeout from the problem. In this case, Faber said, she'd separate the kids. Tell them that they're really upset, so let's talk about it and take a break, she said.

"Take a timeout from the problem to reconnect, to slow it down and to take a break as opposed to banishing them is a pretty nice idea," Faber said.

While the idea of taking the time to talk and hug and cuddle for each disciplinary issue is a lovely one, it's impractical, especially when parents have more than one child or are busy cooking dinner or are doing other tasks, said Thomas Phelan, a clinical psychologist and author of "1-2-3 Magic."

"Time-in requires a lot of time and a kid who is very cooperative," Phelan said. "It can't be done when you have five kids and want to get the dinner ready."

And while critics of timeouts say parents are banning the child to the other side of the world, that's really not what they're doing, Phelan said. They're simply giving the child a little time alone to calm down before resuming an activity.

Still, he said, time-ins work if parents want to use that method — as long as they use it correctively.

 

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