It can be hard to find an effective discipline strategy with our children that will work. Time-out is often the recommended solution. While time-out can be effective in reducing the conflict in the moment, the message it sends our kids long-term is that we will not be with them when they are in the darkest of their thoughts and emotions. It’s crucial to remember that emotional regulation is a skill that children learn over time, and during challenging moments, they may need our guidance and support the most. If a child is not able to regulate their emotions, being alone in those emotions will not help them either.
It can also inadvertently send them the message that our love is conditional. By isolating them as a consequence, they might think that our affection and acceptance are contingent upon their behaviour conforming to certain expectations. This can lead to feelings of insecurity and uncertainty in their self-worth, potentially impacting their emotional well-being in the long run.
More importantly, it tells them that how they feel is bad. It’s essential for children to understand that emotions, even challenging ones, are a natural part of being human. Instead of labeling their feelings as “bad,” we can encourage them to recognise, understand, and manage their emotions in healthier and more constructive ways.
As parents and caregivers, it’s crucial to explore alternative discipline strategies that foster emotional connection, empathy, and understanding. Building open lines of communication, actively listening to our children’s concerns, and teaching them effective coping mechanisms can create a supportive environment that helps them navigate their emotions and behaviors more positively. By prioritising emotional growth and cultivating an unconditional sense of love, we can guide our children towards healthier emotional development and stronger relationships. This is where “time in” comes into play.
Time out Vs. time in
Instead of positioning discipline as time-out, teach your children some skills to regulate prior to any disagreements. For example, when I have big feelings, talking, drawing, reading, playing with blocks or a ball can help us let off that emotional energy. Spend time explaining and workshopping how this would look when in a big feeling. Once this has been explained, tell your children sometimes we need to manage our emotions first before we can talk about our behaviour or our experience.
Re-frame time-out as time-in, so time-into the self and then time-in together to discuss what happened. A great re-frame could be “my calm down space”. Children will need help to regulate. See the calm space as a place to be with your child and teach them how to manage their emotions. Time-in tells our children that we love them unconditionally and that we are there for them, to support them when times are tough and that we want to teach them new skills to use when feeling overwhelmed so that we can learn and grow from any difficulties that arise.
While a time-out can be effective in reducing conflict in the moment, it sends the long-term message to our children that we will not be with them when they are experiencing their darkest thoughts and emotions. It will send the message that our love is conditional, and it will tell them that how they feel is wrong or bad.
Instead of positioning discipline as time-out, reframe it as time-in. Time into the self and then time-in together to discuss what happened. See this as a place to be with your children and teach them how to manage their emotions. Time-in tells our children that we love them unconditionally and that we are there for them and support them.