By birth, only the lower portions of the nervous system (the spinal cord and brainstem) are well developed. In the toddler years, a child’s brainstem and limbic system are wired, leading to tantrums, whining, and crying as healthy forms of stress release. The part of the brain that is responsible for logical and higher-level thinking, known as the prefrontal cortex, is early in development at age three and isn’t fully developed until the mid-to-late twenties.
As opposed to punishing a child for this normal developmental process, we can teach them the skills, nurturing their brain development through playful connection.
If you are having trouble implementing time-ins in your home, or you are altogether new to positive discipline, we have some tips to help.
Here are 6 reasons your child may be resisting time-ins, and what you can do instead:
1. Your child is confusing Time-Ins with time-outs.
If you have used time-outs in the past, your child may be thinking that taking a Time-In in your family’s new calming space is merely a dressed-up version of sitting on the step or facing the corner. To end this confusion, say goodbye to time-outs in a memorable or silly way.
Remove your time-out chair and place it in storage. Write the word "time-out" on a piece of toilet paper and playfully ask your child to flush it down the toilet. Explain that you are going to do something new instead. No more time-outs!
Reinforce the idea that it will take time and practice, but that you are in this together. It may feel challenging to not resort back to old punishment-based parenting methods, but alternating between punitive and positive discipline is a surefire way to hinder the success of using Time-Ins. In order for your children to embrace Time-Ins, they must trust that they are not just another form of punishment.
2. Your child doesn’t associate their Calming Corner with safety.
When children feel unsafe or disconnected, big emotions arise as they tap into their more reactive and primitive brainstem. Taking a Time-In and using a Calming Corner communicates to children that 1) it is safe to feel, 2) they are powerful, and 3) our mistakes help us learn and grow.
One way to build trust and communicate safety is to establish playful rituals within the Calming Corner. When children know what to expect, they feel safe and can better override their brainstem and access their prefrontal cortex.
Some rituals you can share on a daily basis in your calming space include:
- Pulling a PeaceMakers mantra card each morning
- Using the SnuggleBuddies each night to talk about your day using the four main mood groups (When did I feel happy, sad, calm, and mad?)
- Snuggling up to read books like Heart's Treasure Hunt
- Playing games that teach children about their emotions like Feelings Bingo.
These daily gestures help build attachment and trust in playful ways.
3. Your child lacks the intrinsic motivation to use the space.
When we are more invested in the outcome of something than our children, we give away our power, and our kids become detached from the experience. However, when we inspire our children to do things that interest them or that feel good, they get a dopamine release, and because dopamine is a pleasure neurotransmitter, they are more motivated to do that activity again.
One way to help your child feel powerful, safe, and connected is to allow them to take ownership of the Calming Corner space. Recruit your child as the co-creator of their Calming Corner, allowing them to build the space with you, making room for their creative outbursts, thoughts, and ideas. This may look like the following:
- Talk to them about the ToolKit before purchasing, go online to look at it together, and let them press the purchase button.
- Ask them what SnuggleBuddies they would like and talk to them about the wisdom of each animal.
- Encourage excitement by allowing them to retrieve the package from the mail and open the ToolKit together, modeling and joining in on their curiosity and animation.
- Enroll your child in choosing their desired location, set-up, and calming tools.
Another way to intrinsically motivate your child is through play. Play is not only the first language of our children, but it is how they learn, and play is … well … fun.
Use your Calming Corner to connect and play with emotions for two weeks prior to using the space during challenging moments to ensure their comfort and sense of safety in their special space.
4. Your children are still looking for the training wheels.
Oftentimes, our kids seem so big to us and we think that they should have the ability to self-regulate (ie: go to the Calming Corner themselves, identify their emotions, and choose a calming strategy). But the truth is that our two, or four, or even ten-year-olds are early in their brain development. This means that before our children can self-regulate, they must learn the skills of co-regulation.
Co-regulation involves modeling and teaching self-awareness, empathy, compassion, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and more. And this is done as we sit in the calming space with our children, guiding them to notice, name, and tame their emotions and behaviors. It is a team sport and sometimes our children need training wheels before they learn to ride independently.
5. Your children are watching what you do more than they are listening to the things you say.
When you are feeling triggered by something that has happened, how do you respond? Because of a little thing we humans have called "mirror neurons," science has shown that we learn best from watching other people and the things they do, especially when these actions are reinforced and supported by the things they say as well.
The next time you find yourself feeling a big emotion with your children like frustrated, disappointed, mad, or sad, see if you can model putting words to your feelings and your bodily sensations by saying something like, “I'm feeling mad. My head hurts and my heart is beating really fast."
Once you have modeled naming and sharing your feelings, you can model taking a time-in by heading to your calming space and/or choosing a calming strategy. You might point to your calming strategies poster while saying, “I am going to take three deep breaths to help calm my body." And if your child appears receptive to this, you can add, "Would you like to join me?”
When children see that time-ins are for adults too, it normalizes the process and encourages them to embrace, rather than resist, the notion of time-ins and a Calming Corner.
6. Your child needs more time.
We often want the Calming Corner to work so badly, that we forget that it takes time. Parenting is not a destination but rather a journey. Building a foundation for new skills requires patience, consistency, and practice. We rarely become impatient when our babies fall when learning to walk or when they stumble on their ABCs and 123s.
Our goal is to make connection a habit. And depending on the child, a habit can take anywhere from 18 days or more to form, with an average of 70 days.
How To Do A Time-In During Brainstem Behaviors
There are times that your child experiences big emotions and their outlet is to hit, kick, spit, yell, or some other form of primal defense mechanism. It can feel tempting to use the time-in space as a time-out space yet there are ways to set the boundary and connect to help attune the brain and regulate behaviors.
When this occurs, pause and center yourself so that you can move from a responsive place rather than a reactive state. In a calm and supportive voice, communicate safety while you take your child to the time-in space. Point to the emotion that you feel. It may sound something like this, "I feel confused and scared when I see hurtful hands." You may even model choosing a calming strategy for your emotional state.
As your child becomes more receptive, you can discuss with him how he may have felt in that moment of hitting, kicking, or pulling hair. Your child may point to the poster to indicate sad, mad, frustrated, or any other emotion. Validate these feelings as you gently move towards to root of them.
As you work through both your and your child's emotions, begin to talk to her about the reason underneath her behavior, and tools she can use for next time, stating the behavior you do desire. Reaffirm your love and relationship with something like, "I love you, and I am glad we worked through this together."
It is important to remember that the time-in calming space is a way to celebrate all emotions, both unpleasant and pleasant. When you notice your child being kind or helpful, or you share a special moment together, go to the space and point to the emotion you feel on the poster. "I feel happy when I see you helping brother pick up his toys." And then maybe end in a high-five or little dance party. In using the space during all emotional states, children begin to realize that the space isn't just for challenging moments when they have misbehaved or for when they are struggling with their emotions, but rather is a safe place to be with life as it is, both unpleasant and pleasant.
Give your child and yourself some grace as you create new gentle parenting practices within your home. Building your child’s brain and nurturing their heart is certainly an investment of your patience and time, but well worth it in the end.