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Time-ins: How to Deal with Tantrums, Power Struggles, Aggression

Are you looking for an effective alternative to time-out when disciplining your child? Maybe you are worried about whether you are helping change your child’s unacceptable behavior or possibly your child simply doesn’t stay in time-out.

What is Time-In?

Time-In is more a philosophy or approach than a specific strategy. It can be used any time, any place, when you feel a child is in need of guidance or support.

Time-Ins can be used when a child is having a temper tantrum, when there is a power struggle, when a child is being aggressive or non-cooperative.

How does it work and can it be an effective parenting strategy?

Instead of banishing the child to a quiet place to think about what he’s done wrong, parents take the child through a process of identifying their emotions, talking about the issue, and creating a resolution.

In this busy world, this may sound like a long process, however, being brief is the key (to keep your child’s attention!). Time-ins will help defuse the issue quicker because the child will feel supported. How many times have you had to keep putting your child back into time-out as they are still angry and acting out? 

Time-ins will also help prevent possible future behavior issues because the child will learn appropriate problem solving skills.

During time-in, parents are encouraged to empathize with the child’s feelings. Many times, connecting with your child is all that is needed until the storm has passed. It doesn’t mean that you must let your child continue with a behavior that is inappropriate. The time-in gives you the opportunity to really connect and then address whatever change needs to be made.

Parenting coach and therapist Bonnie Compton tells The Washington Post that this method avoids the feelings of abandonment and isolation that often accompany a time-out.

Time-in vs Time-Out


  • Time to calm down and learn from mistakes
  • Creates connection and understanding between parents and children
  • You feel good about yourself afterward


  • Punishment for being bad or behaving badly
  • Creates anger and hurt feelings between parents and children
  • Isolates the child from their caregiver
  • You feel bad and guilty afterwards

How to Use Time Ins Effectively

1. Be Calm

This is probably the toughest one for most parents. I know it is for me! It is completely normal for us to feel angry with our children’s or student’s behavior, especially when it is hurtful or feels disrespectful.

First, take a deep breath or two. You are needing to talk calmly and positively at a time when you are probably feeling pretty frustrated!

2. Move to a Neutral Location

Whether you are picking them up, or just asking them to join you, it is a good idea to change the scene a bit.

Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parentingir.gif, recommends doing a Time-In that he refers to as “Meeting on the Couch.”

3. Find the Underlying Unmet Need or Feeling

Let us assume you are at your neutral location now. Before beginning to connect and talk, it is important to remind yourself why your child was acting the way they were acting.

Children usually act out for very specific reasons. They can be tired, hungry, insecure, angry or simply stressed. When your child throws a tantrum, guess the underlying feeling that caused him to do that and tell him.

“You feel unhappy because I won’t let you have popcorn before dinner. You really would like popcorn. However, we don’t yell and scream to get what we want.”

“No. It is dangerous to throw toys. You feel mad because your brother won’t play with you”

The point of naming the emotions, is to guide your child into identifying, and handling his emotions in a positive way.

4. Ask Questions, Listen and Acknowledge

“Do you see Jack’s face? He looks sad because you hit him. I wonder how we can help him feel better?” Do not attempt this until he’s calm because it just won’t work. Let him offer suggestions on how to right his wrong. This is teaching him problem-solving skills and placing the responsibility of restitution on him. He’s learning that he needs to resolve the issue he created.

Then the key is to listen to what he has to say without denying his feelings, or minimizing them. As the child vents, and you listen effectively, the emotions slowly begin to dissipate. Tears are a good sign that the emotions are being released. Hugs are always helpful too if the child is ready for that!

If he can’t come up with anything, then you can offer suggestions. “Do you think saying I’m sorry will help? Yes? Okay, we’ll go do that. However, the next time you get upset with a friend, you can either say ‘I’m mad right now’ and walk away or you can take 3 big dinosaur breaths. Let’s practice those dinosaur breaths. Good. Let’s go apologize now.”

What to do if Your Child Is Too Worked up?

There will be times when a child is so worked up that you cannot talk, collaborate, reason, or teach. When this happens, explain calmly that you know he is upset. Ask if he wants a hug (you may be rejected.) Go to a quiet place together. Stay there and offer a hug (you may be rejected.) If your child allows it, stay with him. If he doesn’t, agree to leave, and offer a hug (you may be rejected.) As you leave the room, promise that as soon as he wants a hug, you will be right outside.

In this way, you are not punishing or rejecting. You are being as available as he will let you. And if he doesn’t come to you within a minute or two, return, and ask once again, whether he wishes to have a hug. Once he is calm, begin talking, problem-solving, asking questions, and teaching.


I have been a professional nanny working with children of all ages for over 15 years. My work has taken me all over the globe and I have had many amazing adventures with the families that I have worked with, all of which has taught me a great deal about how to make parenting less stressful.

I helped create Mothers Lifestyle in order to share parenting tips and secrets that I learned along the way, as well as to provide life-saving tools and advice from the world’s leading experts that I rely on every day in my professional life.

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