Time-in vs. Time-out are two very different ways approaches to managing children’s behavior. Time-out is typically used as punishment, while Time-In teaches children learn how regulate their emotions. In order for children to thrive emotionally, they must develop skills in emotional self-regulation.Time-Intime-out


In order for children to learn self-regulation, they need specific things present in their daily environments:

  • stimulating activities
  • structured and predictable time frames that allow them to gently transition between activities;
  • protection from harm, particularly from other aggressive children, and
  • firm but loving guidance that helps them develop optimally.

Only One or Two Caregivers

Children also need the absolute minimum number of caregivers during the first three years of their lives. This is because they come wired to bond with one or two primary caregivers. Of course other people can help care for a child, but he or she must know very clearly WHO the primary caregivers are.

Strong primary caregivers help children build the best possible foundation during this critical period of their development. The more caregivers and the more rapid the turnover between caregivers, such as in a child care setting, the more difficult it is for children to bond securely. Secure bonding is the foundation for them developing positive mental health.

Children Need Calm Caregivers

The adults in children’s environments should be calm, supportive and psychologically and emotionally stable. They must be able to recognize when their own buttons are being pushed and disengage when this happens. They must implement pro-social programs that reinforce the positive behaviors they desire in children and model these behaviors themselves.

Adults must also have external support for themselves to help them process their own developmental traumas when they get triggered by children and to create a support system to provide them with respite from the stresses of parenting bright, active and sometimes problematic children.

A Minimum of Rules

Rules in the environment should be kept at a minimum and reinforced consistently. This consistency is critical in helping children develop the cause-and-effect thinking necessary for effective discipline. Young children need a maximum amount of physical contact in order to help them regulate their emotional states. Touch and skin-to-skin contact are critical forms of communication for preverbal children and continue during childhood as an important part of social interactions with safe adults.

Discipline should be designed to help children develop internal controls over their impulses and include lots of reinforcement for positive, pro-social behavior. Misbehavior should provide consequences that allow the child to have more adult contact.

Time-in provides give children important emotional contact and is more effective than time-out, which actually isolates the child more. Time-in discipline requires placing the child in close proximity to a calming and caring adult caregiver for a certain period of time, either being held, sitting nearby or talked with. Adult-child interactions should include hugs, nurturing touch and eye-to-eye talking to enhance the sense of emotional connection and social caring. Avoid shaming, blaming and punitive discipline measures at all costs.

Click here to download the Time-In Guide.

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