Time-Ins Are Not A Punishment Nor A Reward

emotional intelligence  positive parenting 

By Ashley Patek

Time-Ins Are Not A Punishment Nor A Reward

Does a Time-In reward my child for being bad? 

While most can agree that Time-Ins are not a punishment, some have wondered if they are actually rewarding their child’s undesirable behavior. 

We wanted to strip this question to the bare bones. Let’s take a look. 

Time-Ins Separate Kids From Behavior

Our perspective directly influences how we respond to our child’s behavior. So, let’s first start by looking at, “when my child is being bad.” When we look through a lens of “good” and “bad”, we begin to view our children as “right” or “wrong”, and we drift from the innate love that is our child. 

Our children are not measures of their behavior. Who they are and what they do are two separate entities, and when we attempt to make their undesirable behavior wrong or bad, we hardwire our child’s internal dialogue towards, “I did bad” therefore “I am bad.” As they begin to embrace this false identity, they live into the loop that they are defined by their mistakes rather than built from them. 

As humans wired for connection, our children have the underlying need to not only be loved but to know that they will continue to be loved when they have a big emotion, when they mess up or when their behavior is off-mark. Understanding why our children misbehave helps shift the parenting lens to focus less on controlling and punishing and more on understanding, compassion, and empathy. 

Time-In ToolKit - Alternative to time-outs and behavioral charts using positive reinforcement

The birthplace of a child’s misbehavior can often be whittled to a few key sources: 

1. There is an unmet need:
Derailers to behavior are often a child who is hungry, tired, under-or overstimulated, seeking power, desiring connection, or is off routine. Any one of these can send a child to their fully developed brainstem, wired for safety and survival. 
2. Emotional overwhelm:
Under your child’s behavior is an emotion, and when they do not know what those sensations are or what to do with them, they feel unsafe, which kicks them into the survival mode of fight, flight, or freeze. 
3. Brain development:
Because the part of the brain responsible for problem-solving, impulse control, empathy, and logical thinking is early in development (the prefrontal cortex), children often lack the skills and tools needed to fully assess and respond to a situation. This means that our children need training wheels, and there will be mistakes. What we parents do in the face of those mistakes communicates to our children about themselves and the world at large.

When we can meet unmet needs, support and validate emotions, and teach age-appropriate developmental and neurological skills, we help shape the unique expression of our child, leading with love as we hold up a mirror to the love that they are - not just when they behave desirably - but in all moments of the day. 

Time-Ins Are Not A Punishment Nor A Reward

Now, let’s examine Time-Ins. 

Time-Ins are not permissible acts, nor are they punitive. Rather, they are a way to help children learn to notice and process their emotions in a safe space and offer learning moments to practice higher-level life skills. 

Is this another form of punishment? 

The simple answer is no. Rather than using forced isolation with parameters of fear, shame, and blame, Time-Ins focus on nurturing the parent-child relationship through connection. This space is co-created with the child in a playful and engaging way, and is a space your child can choose to visit, but is not commanded to, both during regulated and dysregulated points in the day. 

Rather than punishing a child for having unmet needs or being early in their neurological development and life skills, we can widen our scope to recognize that our children require our love and guidance to learn and grow their brains. 

Our children are not a problem to be fixed but rather a human, evolving and absorbing, learning from us as we teach. When we make mistakes safe, children are able to move outside of their reactive brainstem to receive these lessons to better understand and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

Are we rewarding misbehavior with Time-Ins? 

Leading with connection does not mean that there is a lack of boundaries and redirection. They are not mutually exclusive, but rather equal and necessary parts to parenting (or all relationships, really). 

Time-Ins are backed by science and support the neurological wiring within each human circuit. In order to teach the lesson or redirect the behavior, your child must be in a receiving state. And if their brainstem is on full alert and using a tantrum to defuse tension or their limbic system is releasing big emotions from hurts throughout the day, their brain is unable - like literally, NOT able - to conceptualize and embody the directive. 

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So, in a Time-In, we connect before we direct. We speak to the brainstem and communicate safety, and validate the emotions of the limbic system so that we can later build the learning muscles of the prefrontal cortex. 

A Time-In, then, does not reward misbehavior, but teaches important skills of self-awareness, empathy, re-dos, making amends, impulse control, problem-solving, and more. It helps your child shift into a state that they can hear and retain what you are saying, and it also helps you as the parent address the behavior in a connected and respectful way. Parents can set and hold to boundaries and teach and guide from a place of love. 

The Benefits Of Time-Ins

1. Time-Ins are based on attachment: 

Time-Ins focus on connection over control. We want to equip children with the skills they need to choose optimal choices themselves, and love themselves through their mistakes, rather than follow blind obedience of our command. Our children will one day be grown, and if we are to think for them as children, how will they do so for themselves as an adult? These skills start now, and they begin with attachment. 

A strong attachment, or close emotional bond between the parent and child, nurtures children to feel calm, safe, and supported so they can experience optimal neurological development. Because the brainstem has an opportunity to quiet, the higher-level learning parts of the brain have an opportunity to perk up - aka learn. This outlines the process of a Time-In experience. As we teach and guide to bolster a secure attachment, children are free to explore, experience, and trust themselves, and the world around them. 

2. Time-Ins build skills: 

Emotional regulation is a developmental skill just like walking, crawling, reading, and writing - a skill that builds in time and is enhanced by being taught and exercised. Time-Ins offer a consistent ritual to playfully practice emotional regulation by helping children notice their emotional sensations, name them, choose calming strategies, and orient to social skills such as conflict resolution and relationship management. Each time these skills are repeated and supported, it creates and strengthens the neurological pathway for these skills to take place again. Eventually, as your child learns to co-regulate (regulate with your guidance), they will elevate their skills towards self-regulation. 

3. Time-Ins intrinsically motivate: 

When a child is supported in the Time-In process, and as they become self and socially aware, intrinsic motivation to learn new skills takes hold. Rather than dangling a carrot for desired behavior - aka rewarding or extrinsically motivating a child to behave within a particular container - Time-Ins playfully engage children as they walk them through the process of emotional healing and behavioral management in a way that meets and supports them where they are. And let’s face it, when we are motivated from within to do something, it is reinforced, and we are more apt to do it time and time again. And when it comes to building life skills, that is exactly the place we want our children to move from - from within. 

4. Time-Ins are for all moments, all people: 

Time-Ins are not a place to go during unpleasant emotions and misbehavior alone, they are for all moments, both dysregulated and regulated. Five minutes spent teaching about emotions and calming strategies not only builds the brain but increases comfortability in the space, and thus intrinsic motivation to use the space is born. 

Additionally, Time-In spaces are not for children alone, they are for us adults as well. Using a Time-In when you are feeling pleasant emotions in order to connect with your child or when experiencing unpleasant emotions to practice naming and taming your experience, models to your children the skills you ask of them and helps motivate them to be there, too.

We don’t have to hurt our children to teach them lessons. In fact, research on brain development says quite the opposite, namely that children learn best when they feel safe and connected. While Time-Ins are free of punishment, they are not a permissive approach to reward misbehavior. Instead, Time-Ins are a proactive and responsive call to nurture emotional development and wire the brain for executive functioning. When we learn to connect heart to heart, and parent brain to brain, our children learn the deepest life lessons of all.

•  •  •

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