Parenting and Time Outs


It goes by a million names. “Time out”, “Go to your room”, “stand in the corner”, “sit in the time out chair”… The list goes on and on. What ever phrase you use to send your child away when they are misbehaving is what we are talking about.

About 30+ years ago, in an attempt to get parents to step away from spanking, “time out” was introduced. The goal was to have children sit in time out, so that they weren’t getting parental interaction and so they could take time to work through what they were upset about. It is now a common parenting practice that when children disobey, start to cause problems, and refuse to listen, that we send them away to be alone, in a time out.

But, The next time you are ready to send your children to a time out, take a minute to think about a few things. Time outs aren’t nearly as helpful as we think they are. Nor do they strengthen our relationships with our kids or teach them long term skills that are helpful as adults. (Now, don’t misunderstand, there are obviously times when distance and space is necessary, but here are a few things to think about. A new perspective.)

First, when we send our kids to time out, we are sending a message that how they feel doesn’t matter. We are telling them we don’t care about how they feel, we want them to shut their feelings off and go away.

Second, sending kids to time out sends a message that you want your children to get away from you. (I know, sometimes we really do feel this way, but…) This message says “I don’t care about you, please leave.” Our children need to feel love and when we send them away, the last thing they feel is love.

Lastly, time outs don’t teach our children to deal with their problems. By sending them to be on their own, they don’t get any help learning how to manage their feelings and emotions. By acting out, it shows they already don’t know how to handle how they are feeling and the situation they are dealing with. Sending them to time out doesn’t help them learn to manage anything.

This might sound silly, but let me suggest an alternative to a “time out”. It is time for a “Time In.”

What is a “time in”? A “time in” is gathering your child into your arms and giving them a big hug, instead of sending them away. When their behavior is horrible, when they start throwing a fit, or they hit, or they won’t listen, instead of sending them to their rooms, go to them, get down on their level, and  gather them up in your lap and hold them. Just sit and hold them. As you wrap your arms around them, let them experience the feelings. Let them be angry or sad. And let them say what they want to say.

How are you going to hug a child that is causing so much trouble? Entertain a new perspective…Maybe they are throwing a fit, or talking back. But think of it this way. Instead of getting angry, think… my child must be really really upset to be acting out this way. They must be hurting in some way. Distraught in some way to be willing to throw the fit and talk back. So instead of sending them away, realize that they are in some sort of distress and are just asking, in fact yelling, for help. Simply changing our perspective will make us want to keep our children near instead of sending them away.

Imposing a “time in” will show your child how much you love them. It teaches them you want to be connected and care about how they are feeling. It also gives you an opportunity to teach them how to deal with their emotions and feelings.

Now, it might not work right away. You might try to hug or hold your child and they pull away, or fight or yell “don’t touch me”. That is okay. It will take time for your child to accept this new practice also. Don’t quit. Stay close to your child, and express “you are having a hard time right now aren’t you. That is okay, let me hold you and we can talk about it.”

Remember that as you are working through a “time in” with your child, they will have a hard time expressing themselves for fear it might get them in trouble. Be open to their true thoughts and allow them to be honest. The more they push you away, the more they need you to stay close. Just continue to stay as close as they will let you and ensure them that you won’t leave them alone, feeling this way.

SO… the next time you are ready to call for a time out, STOP, don’t send them away. Instead, wrap your arms around your child, hold them close and give him/her a minute to regroup, feel loved and understood, and start over. Let the love pour out over them and watch their behavior change. In fact, you will see much greater and more successful results by disciplining with “time in’s” than “time outs”.

When it comes to discipline, love will always prevail.

When was the last time your child was misbehaving and you gave them a big hug instead of getting mad at them?

Do you think it would be hard to use “time in’s” instead of “time out’s”?

Have a question or just want to say hello.


  1. anoushka says

    my kid is only 2.5 but when i was still pregnant thru research i was adamant that we were never going to use the word naughty or time out or things like that. it probably sounds pretentious but i think of my child as a person and i remember how it made me feel (humiliated) when i was told off as a child. so we let her know she’s upset us (you made mum sad) and explain to her we would not like her to do things but she still pushes the boundaries. we will have to see how she acts when she gets older tho! it could be completely different!

    • says

      Hi, Anoushka. two year olds are tough! Sounds like you are doing a great job being patient and loving that child of yours. It will all pay off when they are older.

  2. says

    I’ve experimented with a lot of methods throughout the years, and I’ve found “time out” to be really helpful in times when kids are out of control and just need to re-group, take a breather, calm down, think about what they’ve done. I believe very strongly in getting on their level as you said, look in their eyes, show an increase of love, talk about what they did and how they can improve, hug, tell them you love them, after the fact. THAT is what is most important in discipline, the love accompanied with firm expectations.

    • says

      Hi Kristen, you are soooo very right. It is all about the love that we show. That will do more for discipline than anything harsh or shameful. It is important that we are down there with them, looking right into their eyes. Plus, getting down on their level lets us see how they really feel, which makes it easier for us to be patient with them too. :) And there are plenty of times when I can use all the help with patience that I can get.

  3. Lia says

    I see where you are coming from on this. I think I fall right in between the cracks when it comes to time out and time in. Like Kristen, above, I have found MUCH more success if my loving discipline is just that.. love + firm discipline. Sitting my crying child in my lap and letting her throw a fit and say whatever she wants only tells her it is ok to act that way… there is a fine line between letting her feel her emotions and allowing her emotions to turn into disobedience (again). The same with us, as adults…. we can get angry and feel mad but if we act out because of those feelings, we have done wrong.

    Time out is over-used… just like spanking and all other forms of discipline. Children need to know they are loved… I agree with you. However, they also need firm boundaries and teaching and guidance as to how to deal with those emotions that they struggle so much with :)

    Love your website!! :) Thanks for the post :)

    • says

      Hi Lia, You are exactly right. Kids need the love and the discipline. Knowing that they are ultimately loved more than anything else is what will help the discipline work! It is great that you have found a “middle ground” that works for your family.

  4. says

    I have endured my fair share of scratches and bonks and smacks from trying to hold a freaking out 2-year-old… so sometimes we do have to just close the door for a minute (the older girls need to go take as many deep breaths as they are years old), especially because I am losing lap space fast. But, regardless of if she calms down next to me on the couch or in her room for a minute, it is the increase in love after the incident that I have as my highest priority.

    • says

      Melanie, you are exactly right. the increase in love is the most important thing whenever we are working with our children. And there are plenty of times when distance and deep breaths save all of us.
      Loosing lap space fast? Does that mean there is another little one in the near future? :)

  5. Jennifer says

    Amy – I LOVE your blog. I am COMPLETELY non-crafty and must rely on other’s creative genes.

    I have 7 children, ages 16-2. We are not a mixed family, they are all mine. I do NOT consider myself an expert parent, but I have had a lot of experiences and practice. I have LOVED time-outs, but they must be used appropriately. I LOVE Supernanny Jo Frost (not America’s Supernanny) and feel that her method of time-out is fantastic. You put the child in the time-out spot, get down on their level and tell them VERY briefly why they are in time-out. Then when their time is over they must appologize and get hugs and kisses from the parent. I also have the child tell me 3 different ways they could have handled the situation appropriately if they are old enough. Another aspect of her skills that I LOVE is she ALWAYS makes a schedule for the family that includes reading time, playing time, and talking time. Of course children need to be loved and listened to, but NOT when the child is misbehaving. I agree with Lia that giving lots of attention when the child is misbehaving only teaches the child to misbehave. The attention should be given when the child is behaving appropriately with lots of positive reinforcement. It was a kind of game for me for a while to see how often I could notice my children behaving appropriately. It is harder to notice them being good (or calm and quiet) instead of bad – squeaky wheels – you know.

    Good luck to all you fellow parents out there! It is a difficult job!

    • says

      Jennifer, Thank you for sharing your expertise and experiences. Good for you for finding what works best for your family and kids. Time outs are not usually accompanied by getting down on their level and communicating with them, like you do. Even briefly. I love that you have used the “time out” but accompanied it with lots of “time in”. The fact that you make sure there is a dialogue and discussion makes all the difference in the world, and allows your children to learn and grow and feel loved.

      You are right about the squeaky wheels….there is always room for us to see more positive. Great reminder!

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