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A 'time in' approach to guiding children's behaviour involves staying close to your child when they are overwhelmed with strong feelings. Staying connected helps them feel safe and secure, and to calm down. Children gradually learn to manage their own feelings and behaviour.
Using a 'time in' approach means staying with your child when they have 'big' feelings and are having trouble managing their behaviour. It does not mean giving in to what they want or rewarding the behaviour you don't want. It is about staying connected with your child and letting them know you understand how they feel.
'Time in' creates the best situation for a child to gradually learn that strong feelings are OK and they can be managed. It is also a chance, once the emotional storm has passed, to talk about what happened and how to deal with things next time.
Staying with your child during 'time in' helps them:
- learn how to calm themselves down
- manage feelings such as fear, disappointment, frustration, jealousy or anger. They learn that while some emotions might not feel good they are nothing to be scared of, and they can be managed
- to feel safe - they learn that you will not abandon them or punish them when they are having trouble with feelings or behaviour
- learn how to problem-solve when things go wrong.
Staying with your child when they have strong feelings or difficult behaviour sends the message that you love them no matter what.
When your child is out-of-control
- Stay calm and take charge. Your child needs you to be a wise and kind guide.
- Let them know you understand how they feel. You might say 'I can see you feel upset/angry/frustrated because-you really want that toy-want to go outside-want to go to your friend's house-your feelings are hurt.'
- Use holding, rocking and a soothing voice to settle young children. If your child does not want to be touched, stay close so they can come to you for comfort when ready.
- Let them know this upset will pass and they will soon feel calm again.
When your child has calmed down
- Reassure them of your love.
- Help them name their feelings. They will feel more in control and have less need to act out their feelings when they have words to say how they feel.
- Help them find the feeling that prompted the behaviour. Even though your child may seem angry or frustrated the feeling underneath may be fear, jealousy, disappointment or feeling powerless. They will gradually learn to understand all their feelings.
- Help them understand what happened and talk about the behaviour that is expected. Keep reasons short and simple. Young children can learn rules but they are not yet able to understand reason and logic. You might say 'I know you want to play with your brother's truck but it is not OK to hit him'.
- Tell and show your child what they can do next time. Help them learn the words they need to ask for what they want.
- Be careful not to shame your child by making fun of them or telling them they are silly or naughty. This can hurt them and have ongoing impact.
Be patient - young children need lots of practice to learn what is expected.
Create a calm space in your home
It can help to create a calm space in your home where children and adults can go to feel calm and relaxed. Don't call it 'time in' because your child may see it as where you go when you are bad. Ask what they would like to have there to help them feel calm, e.g. soft toys, books, bean bags, blankets.
When you see your child getting upset, help prevent a melt-down by getting in early. You might say 'I can see you're upset because you want to play outside. Let's go to the calm space and work out what you can do until the rain stops'.
'Time out' is when an upset child is removed from the situation and sent or taken to a time out place. They are left alone to calm down and think about what they've done wrong, and to change their behaviour.
- assumes a child can work out what you want on their own, or that they already know the right way to do things. It assumes that in 'time out' they will be able to remind themselves what to do. However, children under three years don't have the skills to work out problems on their own. Children under six don't have the ability to reflect on their behaviour and understand what caused it. It doesn't teach your child what to do, just what not to do
- does not help a child learn how to manage strong feelings and out-of-control behaviour
- can send a message that big feelings are 'bad'. Children often 'push down' upset feelings so they can leave 'time out' rather than learn to manage them. The feelings may show up in other ways, e.g. by becoming rebellious, defiant, withdrawn or anxious, or showing signs of stress such as stomach pains or sleep problems
- can encourage battles because the child often feels a sense of injustice at being sent away. Even older children can feel angry or hurt when sent to 'time out' and not think about how to 'do better'
- may trigger a child's fear of being left alone. They can forget why they are there because they feel abandoned.
When upsets happen, the most important thing is to make sure your child is safe. If you feel angry, you might need to take some deep breaths or step away for a moment until you are calm. If their behaviour pushes your buttons a lot you may need to talk with your doctor or a counsellor.