Everybody seems to be doing time out. Wherever I look I see articles about the pros and cons of the method and descriptions from parents of how it did or didn't work for them. But these descriptions are usually missing the next step: time in. I first saw the term "time in" used in The Discipline Book, by Dr. William Sears. He cautions parents that while time out is an appropriate method of disciplining children, no parent should forget what is equally important to their young child -- time in.
What Is Time In?
Time in is what should come before and after a time out. It's the time you spend encouraging your child's "good" behavior instead of just working on changing his "bad" behavior. It's the hug you give your child when the time out is over or the smile on your face as you tell him what a good job he did building a castle out of blocks. There is no more positive experience for children and their parents than spending time each day playing, working, singing or just laughing together.
The two most important parts of time in, in my opinion, are:
- Spending Time With Your Child
Don't let your interactions with your child be mostly negative. Make sure that each day, whenever possible, you and your child have fun together.
Here are some suggestions for activities that take less than ten minutes, but can make a big difference in your child's day:
- Play Tag - Run around your yard or around the courtyard of your apartment building for a few minutes.
- Play Ball - Catch, kickball, whatever your child likes.
- Draw Pictures - Get out some construction paper and crayons and have five to ten minutes of drawing together. You can just sit next to your child or draw your own picture.
- Read a book - There is a book for every child. Sit with your child on your lap and read together. One book can take no more than ten minutes. (For more information on this topic check out Reading With Young Children and Books to Grow On.)
- Watch TV Together - If your child is going to watch TV anyway, consider spending 10 or 15 minutes watching it with her and discussing what she is watching.
- Play Dress-Up - Get out some old clothes that you are no longer using and let your child wear them. An old shirt, a tie and/or some old costume jewelry can be just the thing to brighten up your child's day. Spend a few minutes admiring your child in his or her outfit. Look in the mirror with her and watch her smile. You can take pictures of your child's outfits.
- Use your imagination - Do what your child likes. Sit together and let him think of something fun you can both do together.
- Rewarding Good Behavior
It's hard to ignore bad behavior. If your child hits, yells or kicks, you are bound to respond, whether it is with a time out or another method of child discipline. Good behavior, however, is easy to ignore. Do we as parents make sure to compliment a child if she puts her lunch box away or cleans up the crayons? Do we remember to tell her what a great job she did playing with her friend for two hours without one fight? If a child hits his brother -- he's in trouble! If he plays nicely with his brother -- do we notice?
That's what time in is all about. It's about not only responding to the bad, but also taking note of the good.
If you are looking for a way to help improve your child's behavior, nothing works like time in.
Make a "Good Work" Chart
While in theory, everything I said above might make perfect sense to you, in practice, it is sometimes hard to remember. I start every day with great plans of what I want to do together with my kids, but somehow many days end with none of those plans fulfilled.
One tool that I use to help remind myself at the end of the day if I have spent enough "time in" with my kids is to make a "good work" chart. For a detailed description of how to set up this chart, check out the article Parenting With Love.
In short, together with my son I make up a chart where I list some of his good and bad qualities and actions. Make sure to phrase even the "bad qualities" in a positive manner. (i.e. don't write "no screaming" instead write "speaking nicely." ) Each day, before he goes to sleep, I go over his day together with him. We discuss what he did "great" that day and what he needs to "work on." In this way, I don't forget to say "great job" and he gets the comfort at the end of the day of knowing that his Mom (or Dad) noticed the great things he did.
The time that you spend on the chart, is also a bit of enforced time in. It's time that is just for your child and about your child. If you set it up and do it regularly, you won't have to worry about forgetting, because your child will remind you.
Time In Works For All Children
While you can discuss the pros and cons of using time out, all children need time in. Your child can only benefit from the quality time that you and he spend together and by hearing "good job" from you whenever he behaves well or does something special.
So try devoting time each day for time in. You may find that the more you do time in, the less you will need time out.