Some decisions as a mother just feel right in my heart. Positive discipline and time-ins are amongst them. The idea of sitting a child in "time-out" always felt unnecessarily punitive to me. Sure, it's a better alternative to spanking but that in itself wasn't a reason for me to endorse it as a discipline choice for our family. While my little love is growing so very quickly, the two year old who is screaming before me to wash her own hair, has the same primal emotional needs as she did as a newborn and that includes feeling unconditional love, attachment and acceptance especially in times when she's discouraged. I worry that time-outs disrupt the attachment process and lead to a child either being angry at the parent, or simply trying to escape from time out. I worry that time-outs unnecessarily isolate a child during a stressful time when an emotional connection with a caregiver could be being made instead.
One of my important parenting goals is to develop a long term relationship of trust with my daughter Violet (age 2), one of mutual respect not obedience to an authority figure. Another important goal is to give Violet the best opportunities to learn life coping skills for a happy and healthy life. Time-ins are an extension of these goals. During our time-ins, we sit in deep connection with one another. I am also introducing her to wonderful outlets for her emotions so when she is feeling frustrated, angry or sad, she knows to reach out to loved ones, communicate, ask for hugs, listen to music, or read books etc.
There will be no "time out chair" in our home, instead we have a relax zone. If initial interventions and attempts to redirect behaviour or prevent tantrums don't work, I will initiate a time-in. For example, if Violet wants ice cream for breakfast and I say "not today" and she's having the sort of day when that response isn't acceptable to her and she decides to take all the magnets off the fridge and throw them. I will ask her a few times to stop throwing the magnets. If she persists in throwing the magnets, I will intervene with a time-in. I initiate the time-in with an acknowledgement of her feelings,“Violet, you are not getting ice cream for breakfast, it's okay to feel sad, everyone feels sad sometimes. It's not okay to throw magnets but I can see you are frustrated would you like a hug?” and she usually welcomes the hug.
We either hug in that spot, or if she's really worked up then we leave the situation and go together to a small love seat in the rec room and I hug her until she's calmed down, then we talk about what happened together. There are a few toys, stuffed animals and pillows left by the couch for additional comfort.
If she's not in the mood to hug, I will say "let's take some time to read a book together (sing a song/listen to music/lie down) until we find an option that feels right for her at the moment. Vi always chooses an option and says "yes mama, a book would make us both feel better" (or song etc). If she wants to be by herself for a few moments and she requests that, she can do so on the same love seat and I will remain close by for when she's ready for that hug (it's not happened yet that she wants to really be alone during these times, I anticipate one day she will). When the time-in is over, in the above example, Violet and I will go and pick up the magnets together.
I don't believe children need to be punished to improve behaviour, in fact it's been my experience that it often gets in the way. A child who is misbehaving usually feels discouraged so making them feel worse (or having them ignore you) doesn't seem helpful. Time-ins foster a greater sense of connection by acknowledging and encouraging your child rather than punishing them.
- I want Violet to know that just because she exhibited undesired behaviour, she doesn't deserve punishment.
- I want to avoid the power struggles that plague some parent & child relationships and get in the way of the long term goals.
- I want to us both to see misbehaviour as an opportunity to deepen our love and bond.
- I want to role model emotional empathy, honesty, integrity and compassion in "discipline".
I think it is an outdated cultural myth that children can be "spoiled" by having caregivers that tend fully to all of their emotional needs. As a counsellor for troubled youth, I observe the negative impact of needless power struggles between parents and teens. As a mother of a toddler, I observe the same. Tantrums from my experience are rooted in two things: one, over exhaustion and two, a child's need for control or independence. Through the time-in approach I provide love, guidance, and comfort without ever isolating or punishing Violet. I role model empathy for the cause of the behaviour and teach my daughter to soothe the emotion that caused the behaviour, rather than react against the behavior itself.
One of the best choices I've made as a parent, for her happiness and mine, is to let my daughter Violet own her own power. When she proudly boasts at two years young "I am the boss of me" I smile with pride because she is right , she is the boss of her. I think that it's great to see such a young person owning her personal power and agency. She is the captain of her own ship; I am the anchor and the navigational system. It works for us. When Violet has a tantrum it never lasts long and I truly believe that my choice to never engage in a power struggle or issue a time out, plays a large part in that reality.
Different approaches to discipline work for different families, and the way a time-in works for any given child needs to be moulded to the personality of the child and the situation. I don't judge families who prefer time-outs but for those parents struggling with time-outs, or tantrums, my experience tells me that time-ins are worth investigating and trying. The resulting mutual happiness of parent and child, speaks for itself.