alternative to timeouts

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Inside: Are you looking for the best alternative to time-outs? Try this easy positive discipline alternative that will help your child behave better and prevent many power struggles in your home.

alternative to timeouts

“I don’t want you to stay close to me!”, my son yelled as he pushed me away when I was trying to sit next to him on the living room’s floor.

It was just after he had a big meltdown when I told him that he could not play with his train anymore because it was time for bed. It was one of those evenings when bedtime came with a struggle. He had a tiring day, and although I tried, we didn’t really get the chance to connect that afternoon. So when bedtime came all the frustration he gathered along the day got the best of him.

He started by refusing to do anything I asked. His lack of cooperation turned into anger when I told him that he could not play with the train anymore. He threw the wagons on the floor and yelled at me that he wouldn’t get to bed. Then he just laid on the carpet and refused to talk to me.

When I tried to sit next to him, he told me that he doesn’t want me close to him. I could see that he was really tired and upset.

I moved further away from him on the carpet.

“I’m here for you when you are ready to talk”, I said.

“I don’t want to talk to you ever again!”, he said and turned his back on me.

“I’m sorry that you feel this way. I’ll just wait here in case you need a hug later.”

He looked at me, and I could see that he was already less angry. After a short while, he moved on the couch. He was sitting on the corner of the couch where we always sit and talk when he is upset. So I knew that he wanted to talk.

I got closer.

“I don’t want to talk to you!”, he said once again with an angry voice.

But I knew that his behavior was just a signal that he needed me. I sat next to him. He looked the other way trying to avoid me, but at the same time, I felt his body moving a little closer to me.

So I started telling him a story.

“Once upon a time, there was a little boy who didn’t want to go to bed. He was very upset when his mother told him it was bedtime. He felt that he didn’t have enough time to play. Maybe he felt that he didn’t receive enough hugs that day. I think he had a very hard day and he just needed a little bit more love before going to sleep.”

I continued the story for a while. My son’s body got more relaxed, and he rested his head on my arm.

“What do you think? Did you ever feel like the boy in the story?”, I asked him.

He looked in my arms and nodded. He had tears in his eyes, and he jumped into my arms.

We stood there for a while, talking about what happened. At first, we talked about his feelings. Then, when he was finally calm again, we talked about his behavior. He already knew that what he did was wrong, so he apologized and told me that he would put all the wagons in the toy box before going to sleep.

Then we talked about how we can prevent this from happening again. We agreed on a solution together and ended the conversation with a big hug.

Ten minutes later the toys were in the toy box, he was in his pajamas with his teeth brushed, and I was next to his bed, giving him a goodnight kiss.

“Thank you, mom!”, he said after hugging me.

“For what?”, I asked.

“For sitting with me on the couch.”

I smiled because I knew that it was more than that even if he couldn’t express it into words.

I walked out of the room feeling grateful that we shared that moment. In the heat of the situation, I could have reacted in many other ways, and I was glad that I didn’t. I could have yelled, I could have sent him to bed with some angry words, I could have focused on the rules without offering him the chance to connect with me.

But I know that nothing would have had the positive impact that those 20 minutes on the couch had. And I’m very thankful that I discovered this way of dealing with this kind of situations.

Why is time-in the best alternative to time-outs?

I often share on my blog the fact that we raise our son without time-outs or punishments. And one of the questions that I receive about our approach is what alternatives to we use.

In my opinion, the best alternative to time-outs is using time-in. Here is why.

What is time-in?

Time-in is a parenting method that focuses on connection and helps improve the child’s behavior in a gentle way. When using time-in, you the child to sit somewhere with you instead of sending the child to spend time alone (in a time-out).

During time-in you have the chance to discuss with your child about their feeling and help them calm down. The fact that you first empathize with the child’s emotions and only them address the negative behavior has a huge positive impact. It helps you build a close and trustful relationship with your child, and it also teaches the child a valuable lesson on dealing with strong emotions.

alternative to timeouts


Focusing on connection before correction makes the child more likely to listen to what you are saying and follow your advice.

Why doesn’t time-out work?

Several experts have researched the reason why time-outs are not effective. They may seem to work on the short run (because they stop the negative behavior temporarily) but they have a negative impact on the long run.

Here are some of the main reasons why time-outs are not the best way to discipline kids:

  • Time-outs send the wrong message. They tell the kids that they are “bad” and that they are not worthy of the parent’s love when they do something wrong.
  • They lead to more power struggles. The child gets more frustrated and is more likely to misbehave again in the future.
  • Time-outs don’t teach any valuable lessons. They only focus on punishing the behavior and not on finding the reason behind the behavior and a positive solution to prevent it from happening again.
  • They put the parent and the child on opposite sides instead of encouraging them to form a team and solve problems together.

If you want to find out more about the reasons why time-outs are not effective, here is a very helpful article on the AHA Parenting site: Timeouts don’t improve behavior. With many kids, they incite power struggles.

How to use time-in as an alternative to time-outs

If you want to implement time-in with your kids as an alternative to timeouts here are 3 easy steps to follow.

1. Invite your child to sit with you in a quiet place.

You can use phrases like: “I see that you are having a difficult time (or you are angry/upset). Let’s go sit down and work things out together” or “Let’s have a five-minute break together”.

At first, the child can refuse to talk so just stay close to them and offer them time to calm down.

2. Discuss the child’s feelings

Before talking about the child’s feelings make sure that they feel safe to open up to you. If a child is very angry or upset, try to first connect with them and help them relax. You can do this by playing calming music, telling a short story, or just holding the child in your arms.

As soon as the child is less angry, start by naming the child’s feelings and encourage them to talk about their emotions. Let the child cry in your arms if they feel the need to do this.

Let the child know that you empathize with their feelings and that you want to help them.

alternative to timeouts

3. Address the behavior

After you have helped the child express the feelings that caused the behavior you can move on to the next step: addressing the negative behavior.

Let the child know that even if all emotions are acceptable and it’s normal to feel angry or upset at times, not all behaviors are acceptable.

Encourage the child to come up with solutions that will help you prevent similar difficult situations in the future. Find the best solution together and agree on how you could implement it.

At the end of the conversation tell the child how happy you are that you could work things out together. And most of all, remind your child that your love is unconditional, no matter what.

Using time-in is not always easy

I know that using time-in is not always easy, especially if you are tired or you are already overwhelmed by your child’s behavior. It takes patience and time to connect with your child and work things out together.

But in time you’ll see how effective this approach is. Kids are less likely to misbehave if they feel connected to you. Also, even when they misbehave, time-in is helping them gain self-regulation skills that will make things easier for you in the long run.

Discipline is not about fear and control. It’s about teaching kids to do the right thing and coaching them to deal with their strong emotions in a better way. And time-in is one of the best tools that we have as parents to discipline our kids in a positive way.

If you never used time-in before, I encourage you to give it a try. It can do wonders for you and your kids.

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If time-outs don't work with your child, use this easy positive discipline alternative that will help you teach your child to behave better and build a strong relationship with your little one. --- Time out alternative for kids | Gentle parenting | Positive parenting tips | Child discipline #Parenting #ChildDiscipline #GentleParenting

Discover the most powerful and effective positive parenting strategy that you can easily use instead of time outs. It will help your child behave better and it will prevent many power struggles. --- Time in for kids | Positive discipline | Gentle parenting tips | Child discipline #Parenting #ChildDiscipline #GentleParenting

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One Comment

  1. I have a very smart 2.5 year old. He understands a lot, but some concepts are just out of his scope. How do I get all of this across at such a young age?