Time-in or Time-out: Alternative and Effective Consequences for Misbehavior in Kids

Time-in or Time-out: Alternative and Effective Consequences for Misbehavior in Kids

“I just need a break!” Are there more effective consequences for misbehavior than time-outs?  Because let’s be honest…who really needs the time-out more, the parent or the child?

Many parents struggle to find what works to manage their children’s negative behaviors because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It can leave parents feeling frustrated, exhausted, stressed, or just at the end of their ropes when their child is unable or chooses not to listen to what their parent requested. Effective consequences for kids may be time-outs or other alternatives like time-in and positive reinforcement. Figuring out how to use time-outs effectively and consistently can be really stressful. Effective communication between the parent and child in a way that conveys understanding and sensitivity to the child usually helps time-outs be successful. Therefore, why not try that sensitivity and communication first before heading towards distance and isolation with time-outs.

Parenting does not come with a manual and every child is different, so it is important to be patient with yourself and your child when trying to figure out what works for both your parenting style and your child’s needs. Alternatives to time-outs can help add emotional intelligence and sensitivity into discipline and may be better suited at times. Below are suggestions for alternative techniques to time-outs that will be effective for helping your child change their behaviors in the way you want!

Effective Consequences for Misbehavior: 4 Alternatives


  • Time-In: Give your child uninterrupted, one-on-one time with you when they display the behavior you are wanting. If they are upset or not listening, before their behavior escalates, you can invite them to sit with you or cuddle.  You can then help them discuss what they want and most importantly, how they are feeling. Time-ins are effective consequences for misbehavior in kids because they allow space for parents to nurture emotional intelligence and teach kids to self-soothe. You can teach your child to pay attention to their feelings and needs by saying things such as, “It’s alright to be upset about not getting that cereal at the store.” A key aspect of increasing your child’s emotional intelligence is to help them identify and label their emotions. Use empathy and sensitivity! Children often express their emotions through crying or having tantrums. Don’t worry, this is normal! This is how children communicate before they learn how to verbally communicate their emotions. By giving “time-in” to your child, you are offering them valuable time and space to begin learning how to communicate their emotions in a healthy, safe way.


  • Parent Self-Awareness: It is important for parents to be self-aware of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you will be able to engage in self-soothing and help your child learn to self-soothe as well. The more distressed or upset you are, the more likely your child will be to mirror your feelings and behaviors. Self-soothing techniques can include deep breathing, adult time-outs, and positive self-talk. Once you are soothed, you can then calmly share thoughts and feelings, and discuss your expectations and invite your child to problem solve and be involved in the solution.


  • Positive Reinforcement: You can give praise and positive reinforcement for good behaviors more often than saying “no” to the negative things. An example could be something like “thank you for putting the toy down” instead of saying, “I said no, put the toy away now!” Reinforcing good behaviors is a better technique because they can cognitively understand rewards versus punishments. Reinforcement is about getting more of the desired behaviors. There can be a big difference in their behavior when you tell them they will have something added (like 10 extra minutes of screen time). These techniques allow for more compromise and mutual control.Pro-Tip: You can use reward systems and charts to keep track of your child’s behaviors and rewards. Common systems are behavior charts, point systems, and token goals. Remember, the more you buy into it and get excited about it, the more they will, so make it fun and entertaining for the both of you!


  • Quiet Corner: Create a place for your child to calm down and soothe themselves. It will remove them from the activity causing issues and teach them to make decisions and use coping skills to calm themselves. Fill the space with soothing things, such as attachment objects (their favorite toy or stuffed animal), books, or pillows/blankets. You can use the quiet corner for your “time-in” to help teach them this corner is a space to use for calming down and discussing feelings. You can also practice using positive reinforcement if they go to the quiet corner willingly with you or if they use it on their own.Pro-Tip: It takes patience and practice to figure out what works. Take care of yourself and your own needs first. Easier said than done, I know; but it is important to care for yourself first so you have enough care to give to your child.


If you are still feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to start these parenting techniques, feel free to reach out to one of our therapists who would be happy to work with you and your family.


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