Time In vs. Time Out: Helping Your Toddler Through Strong Emotions

Time In vs. Time Out: A Different Approach to Helping Your Toddler Through Strong Emotions

ParentingUpdated August 23, 2021


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The toddler years can be challenging for both mom and tot. Toddlers are just learning about boundaries and can have some pretty strong emotions and reactions. How you handle your little one’s meltdowns truly makes a big difference. While time out may be the most traditional way of handling a toddler’s temper tantrum, more parents are looking to positive parenting and the “time-in method” of getting through those toddler years.

Let’s look at what a time-in is and why this approach may work better than time-out.

What is a Time-In?

So, what is a time-in? A time-in is exactly as it sounds. It’s the opposite of a time-out. Instead of giving your child space to deal with their emotional meltdown alone, you help them check in with their emotions instead.

A time in works by having your child sit close to you and then allowing them to express their strong emotions instead of asking them to stop. This approach will also help them calm down more quickly by giving them a safe place to express their feelings. The parent can sit and let their child know they understand why they feel a certain way and sit quietly until they calm down. Keep in mind that a time-in does not mean you have to sit and continue to allow your child to misbehave. It’s about being there to let your little one know that you understand why they are upset and to help them calm down by calmly addressing the problem at hand.

Why does Time-In Work?

Time-ins can be extremely effective for more than one reason, and they can even be helpful for the parent. It can help you connect with your own emotions and think before reacting. This helps handle not only your toddler’s tantrums but also other aspects of life.

Here are some of the top benefits of time-in for toddlers:

  • You establish trust
  • Your child feels safe VS scared and alone.
  • Builds connection
  • Helps your child learn how to deal with their emotions
  • Helps your toddler learn right from wrong by offering an alternative response to the situation
  • Can help de-escalate a tantrum faster than a time-out

An example of time-in:

Interested in seeing how time-ins work? Here’s an example of how to implement this method.

If your toddler is playing with a group of friends but continues to take toys away from his playmates, you can calmly step in and ask him to please sit with you while you have a chat. Start by asking if he knows why he is taking a break from playing. This will allow reflection and time for him to answer before a correction is made. Explain to him that you know he is having fun with the toys and his friends, but taking toys away from others can make his friends feel upset. Once he understands, allow him to go back to what he was doing. By taking this approach, you completely avoid a total meltdown from occurring, you teach right from wrong, and your child still gets to enjoy their playtime! Do you see how this could work in different situations in your day-to-day life? For many parents, this approach is a total game-changer.

Why Time Out May Not be Effective

Time-outs aren’t always the most effective method of handling a tantrum, and here’s why. Putting your toddler in timeout does not actually help them learn to balance regulate their strong emotions. They simply aren’t old enough to regulate these emotions on their own. Timeouts also don’t necessarily teach them the right way of doing things. They are left to deal with their strong emotions alone but are not given any direction on appropriate responses.

Is Time In Right for Your Family?

How you choose to parent is such an incredibly personal choice, and there’s no right answer! How you parent will be what is best for you and your family. However, if time-ins sound like something you want to try, they may be super beneficial for everyone in your family.

If you feel like you are constantly dealing with a power struggle with your toddler, try giving time in’s a try. You may be surprised at what stepping away from the situation, talking to your child, and letting them express their emotions will do the next time they are presented with a tantrum-provoking situation.


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