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An Emotionally Supportive & Psychologist-Approved Alternative To Timeouts

Boy Coloring And Writing At The Table
Image by Sween Shots / Stocksy
July 8, 2020
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Putting kids in timeout is a common form of discipline for bad behavior. The supposed intent is to force kids to spend time alone and think about what they've done wrong. But timeout can sometimes be isolating and shameful—which is why psychologists are suggesting a different approach: time-in. 

The concept of giving a child time in a calming corner, rather than timeout, was demonstrated by working mom and TikTok user Maarte Mami in a widely shared recent video. She explains that instead of making her son take timeouts for misbehaving, she has him take "breaks" in a calming corner set up in the living room. The corner is covered in soft blankets and has baskets of calming items that appeal to the five senses, such as squishy stuffed animals, color-changing light bulbs, essential balms, and crackling toys, as well as posters illustrating different emotions and emotional regulation tools.

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The benefits of time-in, or calming corners.

"There are such big emotions that lead up to timeouts, and it didn't seem effective to me to leave my son to sit alone with these big, scary emotions," the mom explains in the video. "This gives him a super-comfy, safe space as an outlet to reflect, center his mind, process his thoughts, and regulate his emotions. The calming corner allows him to do this because he can meditate, do breathing exercises, or just sit and relax and calm himself via the tools that appeal to his five senses."

She says the calming corner helps her child process emotions before being given consequences like less screen time or additional chores rather than making timeout itself the consequence. Time-ins can also look like a parent sitting down with their child to give them a dedicated space to express their emotions with full attention from a supportive caregiver.

Utilizing time in calming corners, rather than in isolation or timeout, can help kids develop greater emotional awareness and tools to soothe uncomfortable feelings, says holistic child psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS. "It is also focused on helping the child learn emotional and behavioral regulation, as opposed to being focused on punishment for experiencing strong feelings or acting out on them."

Time-in allows children to receive support and guidance from a parent or caregiver during a challenging moment, she adds. "It can be a very beneficial way to strengthen the parent-child relationship, even in the midst of challenging moments, and also helps children learn the tools for navigating intense feelings and moments."

Why time-in beats timeout.

When used appropriately (i.e., to take time apart to regroup or cool down), timeouts can be effective. "However, timeout is often used in a punitive or shaming way, and that is detrimental for kids and the parent-child relationship," Beurkens says. "When used in that way, timeouts send the message to children that their feelings are not valid or appropriate."

Taking away the validity of a child’s emotions—or simply not addressing them—may prevent the child from communicating their feelings going forward and learning healthy strategies to cope with them.

Beurkens recommends time-in for parents of typically developing children, as well as children with developmental or behavioral disorders. All in all, the emotional awareness and coping skills learned during a child's time spent in calming corners could help them regulate emotions and behaviors throughout adolescence and adulthood.

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