I have a threenager. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means a three-year-old who acts like a teenager. Let me give you a few examples: “Let’s make matching bracelets for when you go to preschool and you can look at yours and think ‘Mama loves me!’” She responds with disgust, “Why??? No.” She also has the classic teenage ability to do the exact opposite of what I ask. In the quest to learn how to best teach her good behavior, I ran across the ‘Time In’ strategy.
We all know about Time Outs and have probably spent a lot of time in them as children ourselves–a child does something naughty and they go to their room or the corner or a “special” chair as punishment. For me, it was the stairs. In theory, the child is supposed to think about what they did, feel badly that they are stuck sitting by themselves, apologize, and then never do it again. For me, this was pretty effective. I would actually think about what I did and would honestly try not to do the time out worthy thing again. I would be devastated if I had to go to the stairs and would try my hardest to have a long streak of no stair sitting.
Some researchers say the Time Out technique may not be as effective as we would like it to be for every child and may even have some negative effects:
- When we send a child away when they are struggling with big emotions or for behaving poorly, we are telling them that we only want to be around them when they are calm, well behaved, and happy.
- We are expecting a toddler to regulate their emotions on their own when the reason they are struggling is because they don’t know how to regulate them yet.
- Sending our child away during heightened emotion could make the situation worse and aggravate them more.
- Once they calm down they may do the bad behavior again because they were not taught the correct behavior.
Sure, would we rather not be around our child when they are kicking other kids and screaming? Totally. And we all need a break sometimes, but those instances are a perfect time to teach our child good behavior.
This teaching moment is called ‘Time In.’ I read many articles on this, but my personal favorite was Big Little Feelings’ words on the subject. Instead of yelling at our child to go to their room, as parents we should take the child away from the situation where they are performing their bad behavior and stay with them while they calm down.
First, start off by controlling the situation. Get down to their eye level. Make sure they are unable to hurt anyone else or themselves. Don’t lecture or teach until they are calm and can listen. One of the things that I loved most about how Big Little Feelings explains this step is to come in confidently. Often times, as parents we are not confident on how to handle a situation. I straight up have no idea what I’m doing sometimes–flying by the seat of my pants–faking it ‘til I make it. Usually this works out just fine and we all survive by the end of the day. During times of huge tantrums or behavior issues, my confidence to know what to do usually goes down because I know how important it is to teach good behavior, and I’m not 100% sure what to do.
That is why having a plan like Time In is important. Before the situation even happens you know what you will do and a solid plan boosts confidence. Your child will feel that and know they are safe to express their emotion instead of feeling an equal response of freaking out from you.
While they calm down this is the perfect time to show them love and empathy.
“I know you were mad. It’s okay to be mad. I get mad too.”
Then teach them correct behavior.
“It is not okay to throw a spatula at your sister. Next time you’re feeling mad take a deep breath and count to ten like Daniel Tiger.”
A Time In is a wonderful opportunity to connect with your child, show them that feelings are normal, that they are safe to express them within boundaries, and that you have them too!
Going along with you having emotions too, make sure that you are expressing your emotions in healthy ways as well. Remember that your little one is always looking to you as an example. Maybe you aren’t throwing yourself on the ground when you don’t get candy at the grocery store, but maybe you start yelling when something small happens, like when they accidentally spill their juice or make noise while the baby is sleeping. These are totally annoying instances, but probably worth screaming. If you are dealing with postpartum depression or feeling down for longer than two weeks, seeing a healthcare professional is a great idea! You can be a great example to your little one that taking care of your mental and emotional health is a priority and that it is not a bad or embarrassing thing.
The toddler stage is hard, and every child is different. So if you are finding that Time Out is not working for your child, try a Time In.
For more toddler tips go to babycubby.com.
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