Time Out or Time In?

For many parents, giving a time-out is a preferred method of dealing with a child’s undesirable behavior, and even seems to be a form of “gentle” discipline. You may have heard that an appropriate time-out is “one minute for each year of age.”

But is a time out really gentle? Is it effective? Does it help teach the child more acceptable behavior? Does it help develop intrinsic motivation?

“Discipline is . . . primarily a learning experience and less a punitive experience if appropriately dealt with,” said Maria Montessori. Discipline is not meant to punish, shame or penalize the child for making a wrong choice, but is meant to guide a child and to model appropriate behavior and positive ways of dealing with difficult situations. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning “student”, which reminds us that the goal is for the child to learn how and desire to make appropriate choices.

What Happens in a Time-Out?

What Is a Time-In?

It’s important to understand that this looks different for each child and each situation.  Your child may push you away or may refuse to talk.  Or, they may want snuggles or a hug right away.  Regardless of what your child needs, you are present, available and calm, signaling to your child that he is in a safe place to work through his emotions.

When the child is able to talk, the parent or caregiver might ask the child questions and listen attentively to their answers.  They then might help the child come up with positive behaviors that can help them navigate such a situation in the future.  There also might be some role play of those positive behaviors, and, when possible, returning to the situation to practice the positive behavior.

mother holding and comforting child

It’s important to understand that a time-in is NOT a compromise on your boundaries.  A time-in is NOT buying the toy he asked for before the meltdown or giving them the candy they demanded you give them.  It is not switching the tablet back on and allowing them to resume the show they were watching before you told them to turn it off.   A time-in is the giving of your presence and the stability of consistent boundaries regardless of their behavior.

In addition to “time-ins” there are other positive alternatives to the time-out.

Natural Consequences.




Meeting Physical Needs.

Consistently Noticing and Acknowledging Positive Behavior.

Role Play.

“Our aim is to discipline for activity, for work, for good;
not for immobility, not for passivity, not for obedience.” 
Dr. Maria Montessori


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