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Time-in: Why This Mom Says No to Using Timeout with Her Daughter

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 29 August 2023

My toddler daughter has recently started pulling my hair. 

I’ve read a lot of online discussions about parents using timeout to discipline their children, but I’ve also read about time-in.

I first learned about time-in through an article written by Angela White:

"... I talked to a friend who used what she called time-in. Time-in involved getting down on my daughter's level and holding her if she wanted that and talking about the kind of behavior that was acceptable and not acceptable. I realized that many times when my child was acting up, she was really looking for more attention from me. It was a lot better for both of us if I gave her positive attention in the first place and refrained from negative attention like yelling and shaming. ..."

There’s research on the time-in technique, too, by Southern Methodist University (USA). 

Timeout is a form of punishment. It can change my child’s behavior but doesn’t help my relationship with her. 

Time-in gets to the heart of the matter while also improving my relationship with my daughter: Why is she pulling my hair? What is her underlying need? Is there something I can do that meets that underlying need and also strengthens our relationship?

Developmentally, hair-pulling is a common way that toddlers communicate their frustration. At this age, children are just learning how to talk and haven’t learned how to identify their feelings, let alone manage their anger.

After reading about both timeout and time-in, I decided to try time-in the next time that my daughter pulled my hair.

I noticed that my daughter pulled my hair when she was tired and wanted more attention. Instead of sending my daughter away from me for timeout, I kept her with me and talked to her about how pulling my hair hurts me and that it’s not okay to pull someone else’s hair. I then offered her a hug and asked if she wanted to nurse or have some playtime with me.

Had I used timeout, I think she would only be more upset. Punishing my child would have made her underlying need for attention worse rather than resolve it.

I feel that being respectful to our children, by questioning why they are behaving like this, we can sort out half of the problem. Timeout may change their behavior, but timeout cannot resolve the underlying problem, address our child's needs, or help parents better understand their children and grow closer to them. 

What moments during your day do you use time-in in how you guide your child's behavior?

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