The popular “time-out” behavior management technique is less harsh than traditional forms of discipline, but it’s still a punishment—like a mini jail sentence. Time-outs usually include a shame component as well (e.g., the “Naughty Chair”).
An alternative to time-outs is what you might call a “time-in.” The purpose of a time-in is not to punish, but to help the child get centered and enhance the parent-child connection:
Rather than being forced to go to a time-out place, the child is invited to join the parent for a time-in (although a protective use of force may sometimes be required). The parent and child go to a quiet, comfortable place and stay there together.
The parent uses the time-in to get centered and create a feeling of unconditional Presence and Connection, which has a calming, healing effect on the child.
As implied, you must establish time-in as a positive, mutually pleasurable activity for it to become an effective parenting tool.
Don’t wait until your child is melting down to try a time-in. Do “practice time-ins” when you think your child would enjoy the connection. And when you’re stressed, treat yourself to a time-in.
Use deep breathing, affirmations, or anything that helps you get centered. You might imagine that your center is like a sphere of light that expands to include your child in its glow.
Experiment with different places and ways of doing time-in. The only “right” way to do it is the way that feels best to you and your child. Focus on your state of being… Stillness. Groundedness. Presence. Openness. Connection. Oneness.
When it goes well you might say, “That was a lovely time-in, wasn’t it?!” Your child will then associate the word “time-in” with good feelings.
An Example Time-In
A 2-year-old boy, playing in the sand at a park, gets frustrated and throws a toy shovel at a nearby toddler. Fortunately, nobody is hurt, but the boy’s mother is understandably upset.
Until recently she would have reacted negatively, saying, “We don’t throw things at people!” and putting him in timeout on the park bench. But she’s been practicing time-ins, and is able to curb her reaction, knowing that a time-in will restore her inner peace and effect a better long-term outcome.
As she approaches her son, she’s inwardly soothing her worries about what the other parents might be thinking: “What they think is none of my business… but at least they can see I’m doing something about it.” She takes a deep breath and puts her hand on her heart, as if to switch it on.
Then, with both arms in a gesture of invitation, she reaches out to her son and says lovingly, “Come, let’s have some time-in together.”
If he resists her invitation to time-in, she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to prevent further aggression. She might simply sit on the ground between the two children, facing her son, and begin her centering process right there! If he were going ballistic, she might need to physically restrain and remove him to a quiet place. In either case, she wouldn’t make him (or his behavior) “wrong”; she’d let go of all blame (including self-blame) and stay focused on the goal of restoring peace.
But today she is confident that he’ll accept her invitation with little or no resistance, because they’ve been practicing time-in, and she knows he enjoys it. She carries him away from the chaos of the playground to a nearby shade tree, where she sits on the grass and nestles him in her lap.
She doesn’t need to “teach” him that his behavior was inappropriate because she knows he doesn’t behave that way when he’s centered. All he needs to know is the importance of centering, and her actions are teaching that to him.
Since he still nurses, and nursing has always been centering for both of them, their unique time-in ritual has evolved to include nursing when he requests it (which he does). While nursing him, she’s also centering by imagining that each inhalation fills her with love and peace, and each exhale releases fear and stress.
Relaxed, she vividly recalls some “peak experiences” in which she felt profoundly connected and empowered from within. “That Power is right here, right now, in me, and all around me, in abundance,” she affirms.
She imagines Life Energy visibly radiating from everything in her environment: the trees, the ground, the birds, her son, herself. “It’s all energy… Everything and everyone is connected,” she thinks.
Soon her son stops nursing and gets up to explore the area around the tree. Still sitting, she leans against the tree and begins thinking of things she’s grateful for and things she appreciates about her son.
Less than five minutes have passed, and her heart is overflowing with love!
None of these inner processes are “official” time-in steps; she chose them from many sources, or made them up, and kept the ones that best made her feel centered, present, expansive, empowered, and connected. She expects the routine to evolve as her son grows, and she’s begun improvising variations of time-ins to resolve issues that come up with her teenager and her husband, too.
Presently, the 2-year-old looks at his mother, points to the playground, and says, “Go back now!” She sees (and feels) that he, too, is now centered and emotionally stable. She senses that the time-in has “charged his batteries” and expects that will help him interact more creatively now. So she agrees, “Yes, let’s go back!”
And all is well.