Time-in has become a bit more common a term over the past 5-10 years and the reason is that our new understanding of growing brains supports it. The old way of thinking about time-out was that when a child misbehaves, they need to go away by themselves and think about what they’ve done. Sounds good in theory and it’s probably what was done to you when you were growing up. Time out is based on Behaviorism, which is all about how learning happens through conditioning- positive or negative reinforcement. In short, if you reward “good” behavior and punish “bad” behavior, children learn what’s appropriate or not. But this theory is missing three important concepts.
I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt and this is the All Relationships Can Heal Podcast. Today is Time-In Tuesday and we’re talking about the idea of Time-in, both for you and your child, instead of time-out and why that matters.
Time-out has been around for quite a while. But current research is showing us why time-out isn’t really effective. Here’s my version of the research in parent terms.
- All behavior is a communication. Behind all behaviors are feelings and needs. When we are calm and in a good place, our behavior reflects that. When we’re not calm and we’re in an emotional or survival space, our behavior reflects that, too. This is true of all of us, no matter how old we are.
- When we’re calm and in our thinking brain, we learn. Our brain has many distinct areas and when we’re in our emotional or survival brains, we’re not thinking as well or at all as when we’re calm. And that means we’re not ready to learn. This is why you can make an agreement when you’re calm and it goes out the window the first time someone looks at you funny. You’re no longer in your thinking brain where you made the agreement. You didn’t plan for it, but there you are.
- We regulate in relationship. What Behaviorism misses is that the precursor to learning is regulation and the ability to calm oneself. We learn to calm ourselves in connection with another regulated brain.
But Rebecca… I’m not regulated when my child does the thing when I send them to time out. Right! Because no one knew this was important when you were growing up and the neuropathway in your brain is a super highway to your reaction and to needing to be by yourself to calm yourself down. You learned it wasn’t safe to reach out when you were in distress, even though this is a basic human need.
If you’re upset when your child does something, YOU may need a time-in to connect with yourself before you can support your child and regulate. Your time-in might be breathing, phoning a friend or your partner, checking in with your body to see how you’re feeling and what you need right now. That’s very different than being sent off to think about what you’ve done or why you’re upset, isn’t it?
And your child needs the same thing. Once you’re more regulated, your child needs YOU to help calm down and return to their thinking brain. But guess what? Did you know you can actually co-regulate with your child? It means that you can both calm down together. Think of a little baby nestled on your chest. As the baby calms, you relax more. As you relax more, the baby settles more. Can you feel that feeling? That’s co- regulating. You’re helping each other to regulate. The same can happen with your kids when you recognize that they’re dysregulated. If one person is dysregulated, it means that on some level, everyone is dysregulated. What happens when you ignore the behavior, but not the child, as Bryan Post suggests? If you can see that your child is having a hard time, not trying to make your life harder, you can both slow down and snuggle in for a time-in together. You’re working together to help you both regulate and return to your thinking brains and that’s where the learning really happens.
We’ve been taught that we need space when we’re upset and sometimes that’s true. And sometimes our kids need a little space. But what they need most is responsiveness and someone to help them navigate their emotional upsets so they can come back into the safety of our relationship where learning happens the best.
When calm is back for everyone, talking about what happened is important. Sometimes boundaries are needed and we’ll talk a lot about that in future episodes. But the first step in the whole process is to regulate through your connection.
Next time something happens with your child, try the time-in to connect with yourself and then a time-in with your child and let me know how it goes.
We’ll be exploring more about time-in, punishment alternatives, boundaries and so much more every Tuesday. Time-in Tuesday is one of the places where healing happens. I’m looking forward to our conversations about it! Tomorrow, on Wisdom Wednesday, we’ll be talking more about regulation and what that really means. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you tomorrow!