Ah, the time-in. Often recommended in positive parenting, a time-in is an alternative to a time-out–a connective moment instead of an isolating one. Here are some different ways time-ins (also called positive time-outs) are described:
Go to a specially designated spot that feels safe and cozy, and snuggle up. You connect, which may be all your child needs to pull herself together. If you can, you get her giggling, because laughter vents those stored-up anxieties almost as well as tears. ~Laura Markham, How to Transform Your Time Outs to Time Ins
The Positive parenting tool called time IN or positive time out is when a child that is having a difficult moment is kindly invited to sit somewhere, near by a care giver to express their feelings and eventually cool down. ~Ariadne Brill, Time Outs vs. Time Ins
Sometimes just changing the scene and making reconnection a top priority can create a dramatic difference, and the tension is gone as soon as you get to the couch, so you might end up just goofing around and being silly together. ~Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, as quoted by Marcy Axness in Time Out From Time Out.
By the way, I’m linking these articles because I think they are great. I just wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the language that’s typically used to describe what a time-in means. I myself have said the same thing:
A positive time-out is a chance to pause, regroup, and collect ourselves (children and parents). Time-outs are effective when they are about feeling better. How to Make Time Outs Positive
All of those descriptions are true; those are what time-ins are about. They sound so lovely! A time-in instead of a time-out sounds peaceful, connecting, calming, even fun.
And that’s what I want to talk about for a minute. Because for us, time-ins were never “fun.” They weren’t ever peaceful. They were chaotic with my son’s emotion. And frustrating for me. And not cuddly in the least.
The way it typically went was:
My son started losing control. He would get angry or frustrated or upset by something going on. It could’ve been a game he was not winning. It could’ve been toys he did not want to pick up. It could’ve been a conflict with another child in the house.
He was never shy about expressing his emotions around other people, so in his anger he would cry. Eventually, as the situation did not change (the conflict was still there, the toys still needing to be picked up, the game still being lost), his tears would escalate into shouts or harsh words, and any of our attempts to calm him were met with kicks, hits, or pushes away. This was an indication that he had some huge feelings that needed to be offloaded–and this was best done in private, without an audience.
Our words for taking a time-out were, “Take a break.” Either I or my husband would let him know it was time to take a break and that we’d go together. Except, because he was so caught up in those HUGE, overwhelming feelings of the moment, no rational thoughts occurred to him. He was 3 or 4 years old then, and it wasn’t like he’d sit there and go, “OK Mom, you’re right. I do need a break. I need to take time for my brain to feel better. Will you please stay with me?” and calmly take my hand as we went for a time-in.
No. One of us would have to carry a writhing child off to a room (with a door) so we could be alone and have a time-in while the flood of emotions passed.
And not just his emotions, ours too. By the time we had been through the escalating conflict (whatever triggered the meltdown), the initial attempts to calm him, the receiving end of any physical lashings, and the struggle to get him to a calm-down place, my husband and I were feeling quite emotional, too.
For me, as I sat with my back against the door and listened to his tearful, stammering shouts of, “I– want– to– go– OUT!” while preventing his attempts to shove me aside and throw open the door so he could run back to the living room and carry on in front of everyone, I was very aware of my own emotions. My own rising level of anger. I could feel my own shouts within me, crouching just below the surface, ready to spring forth at any moment.
I had to put my head down on my knees and take deep breaths.
I had to wait until until he stopped trying to get past me.
I had to repeat, “I’m going to stay here with you.” No other words than that.
I had to wait until his movements calmed.
I had to wait until his sobs slowed.
I had to wait for him to accept my touch.
I had to wait to say, “I love you.”
And I had to wait even longer than thatwhile he truly calmed down and was ready to rejoin our family and friends and find some resolution of the original problem. But I loved the warmth that swelled in my heart when I looked at my son after those moments. His reach, his touch, his hugs and kisses the rest of the evening told me I had given him just what he needed–an outlet, acceptance, unconditional love. Our connection revived.
Positive parenting doesn’t always look as positive as it sounds. It gets messy. It can be tumultuous. It takes a long time. It’s not always as pleasant as the literature makes it sound. But it does require us to stick with kids through all those messy moments. It tells our kids they aren’t too much for us. We can handle the big feelings; we can handle them.