Category: Positive Discipline

How to Improve your Child’s Behavior Using a “Time-In”

How to Improve your Child’s Behavior Using a “Time-In”

“I’m angry, I need to go take a break”


Words I never thought I’d hear my 4-year-old say in the heat of frustration, as he walks himself over to the break area to calm down.


Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t how he handles every frustration (actually not even close), but the fact that this happened means that he is ON HIS WAY to learning how to manage his emotions without aggression or outbursts.


Isn’t that what every parent wants? For our kids to know how to calm themselves down when they get upset? For them to be able to stop, breathe, and think before acting on their emotions? Of course it is! But how do we help our kids to get there?

Behavior is communication.

Our children let us know when they are struggling when they act out. As a parent, you have two possible ways of dealing with your child’s outbursts. You can:



A)    Deny their feelings, shame them, or send them away to deal with their big feelings alone in a “time-out.” Or…

B)    You can accept their feelings, help them identify the difference between their feelings and their actions, and give them tools to learn self-regulation. AKA, time-in.

Why not time-out?

Time-out is a surface level punishment.

The purpose of time-out is to extinguish negative behaviors, and for the child to “pay the price” for their actions. The problem with making a child “pay the price” for their behaviors is that it assumes that the child knows what they are doing and has full control over their actions. If we, as adults, don’t even have the emotional regulation to stop ourselves from yelling at our children, then how can we expect our young children to be able to manage their feelings?

Time-outs never address the deeper issues or the emotions behind them.

Underneath every negative behavior is a big feeling that your child doesn’t know how to deal with. Time-out simply represses your child’s feelings and teaches them that they are not accepted. Time-out teaches young children that negative feelings are meant to be pushed aside and that they will only be acknowledged when they are ready to “behave.”


Time-out is a form of love-withdrawal.

Time-out is actually an abbreviation for “time out from positive reinforcement” which was a term used by behaviorist B.F Skinner. He first described it a means of controlling animal behavior. Time-out is threatening a child on an emotional level, because they feel a threat of abandonment. For a young child, time-out is emotionally devastating.

What is a break or a time-in?

A break or a time-in is a gentler alternative to “time-out.” It is the way that you can help your child build the skills he needs for self-regulation.


At the heart of the positive parenting philosophy is the idea that our kids WANT to behave, always. But due to an immature brain and a lack of regulation strategies, they struggle.


If you believe that your child wants to behave, then punishments and time-outs make absolutely no sense. You are basically punishing your child for something they are not yet capable of doing. Think of it like punishing a 6 month old for not being able to walk.

Remember, ALL behavior is communication

A time-in is a process in which your child learns (with your help) to separate themselves from a challenging situation, in order to calm down and gain perspective before returning and solving the problem. With the parent’s support, the child learns the skills they need for emotional regulation.


What does this look like?

First things first, set up the time-in or “break” area

This should be a comfortable place in your home for your child to work out his or her feelings and take a break when needed. Think “cozy corner” and provide pillows, blankets, books, or sensory toys in your child’s break area. Anything that might help your child feel calm is appropriate in a time-in area. Another great addition is a poster with feelings so that your child can learn to name their emotions when they come up.

 Spend time in the break area often, especially when nothing is wrong

This is an important step in teaching your child that the break area is not a punishment. The purpose of the time-in is never for your child to “learn their lesson,” it’s for them to learn to calm themselves down and re-group. Read books, cuddle, and talk in the break area so that it becomes a happy and non-threatening space for your child.

Implementing the time-in

Whenever your child is demonstrating that they are struggling in a given situation (for example, hitting his sister for messing up his train tracks), physically stop him and say “We are going to take a break.”


Calmly and gently walk or carry your child to the break area and stay with him. Be a comforting presence as he calms down. Be willing to stay the course of the tantrum with him. Know that when your child is struggling, the release of emotions is inevitable.

Name and validate your child’s feelings

“It’s so frustrating that your sister messed up your train track. You were working really hard on that for a long time.”


So much of the time, your child just wants to be understood. He will have so much peace knowing that you understand and empathize with him.


Once he is calm he will be able to hear you and you can begin to problem solve with him.


“It’s so frustrating that your sister messed up your train track. The problem is that babies don’t understand how to play with trains. Babies just love to grab whatever they can reach. What can we do to keep your trains safe next time?”

 Next, help your child make amends

Let your child know that they need to go and check on the person they have hurt (either emotionally or physically). Have your child walk over to the other person and ask if they are okay. Instruct your child to ask the person if there is anything they can do to help them or make it better.

 Model using the break area when you are upset

When you feel your emotions starting to get the best of you, take the opportunity to model for your child how to use the break area by using it yourself. Say out loud, “I’m going to take a break to calm down before I figure out how to solve this problem.” So incredibly difficult in the heat of frustration, but so important for your child to see.

Want more support in responding calmly and effectively to your child’s misbehavior?

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The fact is that every parent at some point or another ends up losing it and yelling at their kids. Every parent has a breaking point. Some parents reach their breaking point after weeks of built-up exhaustion and fatigue, while other parent reach their breaking point nearly every single day.

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One of the most frustrating aspects of parenting is figuring out how to get your child to listen the *first time* you ask them to do something. Nothing is more irritating that feeling like you need to repeat yourself, yell, or resort to punishment over simple requests. If you are struggling with little kids who don’t listen the first time, stick with me for the one simple strategy that actually works.

But first, here’s why it doesn’t work to repeat yourself in the first place:


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Ahh, toddlers. You’ve got to love them. Toddlerhood is actually my favorite age of childhood, because it’s a time of such huge growth. One of the most notable changes happening during this phase is child’s desire to be independent… the child’s desire to do things their way.

Sound familiar?


Wanting to do everything their way, along with other major cognitive and social gains creates the perfect storm for negative behaviors (like screaming, hitting, biting, saying “no”) to rear their ugly head.

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If you asked me a year ago what word best described my parenting, it might have been “rigid.” Being a preschool teacher for so many years had made me a little too good at setting limits and following through. It got to the point where every day with my 3-year-old son was a repeat cycle of tears and unnecessary power struggles. I found myself thinking that I couldn’t let go of one single thing because then, “He’d win.”

But one day it hit me… at what point did he and I stop being on the same team? At what point did I start controlling him instead of guiding him? Of course I should want him to “win.” I want him to win at solving problems. To win at loving others unconditionally. Most importantly, to win in our relationship.

Fast forward to now, and I’m viewing defiance and misbehavior in a whole new light.

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My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for 2 minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills over him taking a few more bites of food.


“You’re going to be hungry” I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising and even though I’m trying to stay calm, I’m getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but in the moment… there was nothing. Nothing I could do to stay calm, nothing I could do to get this tiny human to eat his food. Tantrums all around.

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I started learning about positive parenting long before I was actually a parent. When I was getting my MA in early childhood education, everything that I was studying about child development and how children grow up to be well-adjusted and emotionally intelligent… all pointed back to positive parenting.

So once I had my own children, it made perfect sense for me to start putting some of those principles into action. Once I dove in, the first thing I realized is that there is a TON of information out there. Too much information. It’s overwhelming and honestly hard to know where to start.

To help save you time on your journey towards becoming a more positive parent, I’ve compiled this list of 6 core positive parenting principles to live by. Consider this your “starter’s guide,” the “beginner’s manual” to positive parenting. Let’s dive in!

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You know what I’m talking about… the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and the heat rising in your neck and cheeks. The feeling that is a cross between desperately wanting to help your child work through the pain they are experiencing, while also being so incredibly frustrated that you just want to start screaming yourself.


It is so difficult to remain calm when our children are having a meltdown. The most important thing to remember about tantrums are that they are a completely normal part of childhood.

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Spanking is a major hot-button topic these days. Technically, spanking is legal in all 50 states as long as it’s “reasonable discipline” and does not cause the child injury. Some people come from the mindset of “I was spanked as a child, and I turned out okay,” while others feel it borders on child abuse. 

Aside from a couple of swats for truly atrocious behavior, I was not spanked as a child. Generally speaking, my parents opted for taking away privileges or adding chores when I misbehaved. There was a time (before I really started studying child development) that I wanted to believe that spanking was no big deal. It’s what generations upon generations of parents did. It couldn’t be as damaging as so many people made it out to be.

But after I started really looking at the research and learning more about how children’s brains develop in those early years, I have taken a much firmer stance on this issue. Here are some of the unexpected ways that spanking affects the development of young children:

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7 Ways to Raise a Low-Media Child

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more information, please read my disclaimer here.

In this high-tech, fast paced world, our family is making a radical move… we’re deliberately going LOW-tech. I’ve always dreamed of a simple, classical childhood for my children. I want them to read books, play outside, explore, go on adventures, build forts, color, and build. And I want them to want to do these things. Not to do them as a way to pass the time before I allow them to watch yet another TV show.

Technology is increasing much faster than research and studies can determine what is actually best for children’s developing brains. The American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends no screen time for children under 2 years, and a 1 hour limit per day of high-quality programs for 2-5 year olds. I always wonder if that limit will become more stringent as time goes on and we can really see the effects of technology over time.