Meltdowns and power struggles are ruling our roost, and it feels hard. So, super hard. Growing up, big emotions weren’t allowed. “Dry up or I will give you something to cry about” was our family mantra. Jump to me being in the parenting seat, and my child’s emotions feel threatening.
In my attempt to curb the meltdowns, I gave Time-Outs a go. But after a few weeks of using them, it felt like another form of emotional muffling, not to mention my child’s meltdowns became more frequent and the power struggles became more intense. Wasn’t this supposed to work?!
And that’s when I learned about Time-Ins.
Research shows that children who feel safe and connected to their parents are more likely to follow their guidance. Separation-based tactics do just the opposite. While a Time-Out may lead to compliance induced by fear and/or shame, it doesn’t teach the skills required for children to pause, notice and reflect on what happened, and develop tools for managing future emotions and behaviors.
Children do not yet have the advanced cognitive abilities to think abstractly so the whole go to your room and think about what you did thing falls flat when you look from the lens of development. It leaves the child alone in their time of need, and because children are ruled by emotions and the present moment, they spend more time thinking about how unfair it is that they are in a Time-Out than they do considering their actions and consequences. Children figure out quickly which parts of them threaten their safe place in their family system, and through their innate need to survive, they adapt. This is called compliance.
Time-Ins move the needle of discipline to a place of relationship and connection, where our children do not obey us but rather choose to cooperate with us. This happens when they feel safe and when they understand their body. What is this sensation I am feeling, and what do I do with it?
Children are born to detect threats and feel feelings. So, if they are having a meltdown, then their body is doing its job. It perceived some sort of threat and responded with a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. These behaviors are challenging, yet when we teach and guide through small rituals that make it safe to feel and want, children learn how to notice and manage those emotions, increase their empathetic capacity, problem-solve, control impulses, and repair relationships.
In short, Time-Ins decrease meltdowns, but not through suppression of expression as seen in punitive and punishment-based tactics. Time-Ins decrease meltdowns because your child develops the cognitive ability to access higher brain regions. Instead of hanging out in their protective brain where all the challenging behaviors happen, their emotional impulses become wired to travel to their learning brain where executive functioning occurs.
5 Time-In Tips To Decrease Meltdowns
1. Say goodbye to Time-Outs
If you have been using Time-Outs, help build your child’s sense of safety and confidence by tossing them out. Put away the Time-Out chair, or write Time-Out on paper and encourage your child to shred it. The time of surrounding emotions with fear and aloneness is over.
2. Say hello to Time-Ins
Let your child know that your family is going to try something new. This Calming Space is for the whole family to go to when they want to relax or take a break, when they feel big emotions, or when they want to spend time together.
The Time-In ToolKit comes with Feelings Face posters to decorate your chosen area of the home. When setting up your space, do this with your child. This is key. Encourage them to help choose the space, decorate it, and fill it with sensory and calming tools. The more you can add in silly and play, the more your child will be intrinsically called to use the Calming Space.
3. Get to know your Calming Corner
Before you ever use your Calming Space for a teachable moment, use it for connection. Spend 5-10 minutes a day to look at and mimic the Feelings Face posters, read books about emotions, snuggle, and role-play. Create morning or evening rituals to pull a mantra card or talk about when you felt a green (calm), blue (sad), red (mad/scared), or yellow (happy) emotion. Not only will this help your child build an emotional dialogue for them to use during escalated moments, but it gives your family a safe place to process feelings together.
4. Model using the space
Your kids want to know that their Time-In space isn’t a dressed-up version of a Time-Out. Model using the space during your own moments of regulation and dysregulation. Use “I statements” and point to a Feelings Face picture to show your emotion and then choose a calming strategy. Let your child know that all people - even moms and dads - are working on their big emotions. In watching you, your child’s nervous system will absorb and mirror what it sees.
5. Use for teachable moments
After you establish the Time-In space as inclusive and safe, invite your child to go there during meltdown moments. Some children will choose to head directly to the space to identify their emotions and choose a calming strategy. Some will resist, in which you can stay listening and co-regulate right where you are. Other children, especially older kids, may choose to visit the Calming Space after their meltdown has passed, either directly after or later in the day.
Regardless of how your family uses the space during dysregulation, use regulated moments to teach the skills. Review how they felt about what occurred, tools for next time, and repair as needed.
Because your child feels safe and connected when using Time-Ins, your parent-child relationship deepens. Your child begins to internalize that your love knows no conditions. That who they are (regardless of their behavior and what they feel) is safe, allowed, and valued. I am pretty sure that is what the child in me wants, too.
Through your love and guidance, you can empower your child instead of railroading and gaslighting. Instead of squashing their spirit, we can raise free thinkers who respect boundaries, ask for what they want and need, are aware of self, and are empathetic to others.
All of this from the simple ritual of Time-Ins? You betcha.