What To Do When Coping Skills Don’t Work: Time-In Versus Time Out

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | November 24, 2023 

You know all the things. You have tried all the things… the removing of demands, the taking breaks, the deep breathing, the physical exercise. All the coping skills are not working. Your child is still dysregulating. Everybody needs a break from the behavior. What do you do? Some would suggest a consequence such as a time-out. For adopted or fostered children, however, this may further exacerbate the problem. What might work better is a time-in.

Foster care and adoption bring with them many hard things. Children are separated from their primary caregivers. For good reason or not, this separation is a wound, a trauma that makes them more sensitive to attachment disruptions (Creating a Family, 2017). They live with the “anxiety of wondering if [they will] again be rejected” (Verrier, n.d.). Sending a child to time-out is a separation that can remind children of this wound. For this reason, it can further dysregulate a child, making him or her more anxious, and even less able to comply with use of coping skills, or really anything else for that matter.

So why time-in versus time out? Time-in reminds a child that the connection with the caregiver or parent is still strong (Gerich, 2020). It allows the caregiver or parent to soothe and calm the child (Siegel & Bryson, 2014). Time-in allows a caregiver or parent to model coping skills (Gerich; Huj, 2017). Time-in can grow attachment.

What does it look like to have a time-in? It means staying with the child. A toddler might want a bear hug to help calm down (Shaw, 2015). An older child might simply need someone to sit with them while he or she processes (Siegel & Bryson, 2014). Adult presence can help children feel safe, and safety promotes regulation (Parent Map, 2012). Five or ten minutes of quality time before a true melt-down might even be a way to preemptively head off a time when coping skills will no longer work (Shaw). Time-in is all about connection and about maintaining it so that a child can know his or her inherent worth, co-regulate, and hopefully eventually, self-regulate.

Are time-outs all bad? The verdict is out. For kids who have already experienced attachment loss, however, the recommendation is for time-in. Especially when coping skills are not working.  Connecting is more likely to have positive benefits for both parent and child.

Recommended Reads

baby child in hat sits on beach against background of sea and plays sand
Sand Tray Therapy: What is it and the Benefits
Sand tray therapy is a form of play therapy that allows expression through the use of miniatures. It...
Read More
happy boy with carton plane wings, and cheerful father playing with his son
Play Therapy and its Benefits
Play therapy allows the client to intentionally communicate without having to use words all while feeling...
Read More

You know all the things. You have tried all the things… the removing of demands, the taking breaks, the deep breathing, the physical exercise. All the coping skills are not working. Your child is still dysregulating. Everybody needs a break from the behavior. What do you do? Some would suggest a consequence such as a time-out. For adopted or fostered children, however, this may further exacerbate the problem. What might work better is a time-in.

Foster care and adoption bring with them many hard things. Children are separated from their primary caregivers. For good reason or not, this separation is a wound, a trauma that makes them more sensitive to attachment disruptions (Creating a Family, 2017). They live with the “anxiety of wondering if [they will] again be rejected” (Verrier, n.d.). Sending a child to time-out is a separation that can remind children of this wound. For this reason, it can further dysregulate a child, making him or her more anxious, and even less able to comply with use of coping skills, or really anything else for that matter.

So why time-in versus time out? Time-in reminds a child that the connection with the caregiver or parent is still strong (Gerich, 2020). It allows the caregiver or parent to soothe and calm the child (Siegel & Bryson, 2014). Time-in allows a caregiver or parent to model coping skills (Gerich; Huj, 2017). Time-in can grow attachment.

What does it look like to have a time-in? It means staying with the child. A toddler might want a bear hug to help calm down (Shaw, 2015). An older child might simply need someone to sit with them while he or she processes (Siegel & Bryson, 2014). Adult presence can help children feel safe, and safety promotes regulation (Parent Map, 2012). Five or ten minutes of quality time before a true melt-down might even be a way to preemptively head off a time when coping skills will no longer work (Shaw). Time-in is all about connection and about maintaining it so that a child can know his or her inherent worth, co-regulate, and hopefully eventually, self-regulate.

Are time-outs all bad? The verdict is out. For kids who have already experienced attachment loss, however, the recommendation is for time-in. Especially when coping skills are not working.  Connecting is more likely to have positive benefits for both parent and child.

Recommended Reads

Relaxed woman sitting in garden on chair with closed eyes.
Liturgical Prayer: 3 Reasons they Sooth the Soul
Liturgical prayer can be an effective way to express our thoughts, emotions and gratitude. You may find...
Read More
Christian man holding jesus cross.Hands folded in prayer on a Holy Bible
Reframing: A CBT Technique and the Christian Faith
Reframing is a basic CBT technique used to change the mind by considering something from a different...
Read More

References

Creating a Family. (2017, April 12). What adoptive parents need to know about the primal wound. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/adoptive-parents-primal-wound-2/

Gerich, M. (2020, April). Attachment rich parenting: Could tantrums be an opportunity to connect with your child? Child development clinic. https://www.childdevelopmentclinic.com.au/attachment-parenting-598250.html

Huj, H. (2017, May 11). Parenting tips: Time-outs & time-ins. Theravive. https://www.theravive.com/today/post/parenting-tips-time-outs-and-time-ins-0003102.aspx

Parent Map. (2012, September 26). Discipline: Is time up for time-outs? https://www.parentmap.com/article/discipline-is-time-up-for-time-outs

Shaw, G. (2015, September 5). Disciplining toddlers: Time in or time out? WebMD.

Siegel, D., & Bryson, T. P. (2014, September 23). ‘Time-outs’ are hurting your child. Time. https://time.com/3404701/discipline-time-out-is-not-good/ https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/disciplining-toddlers

Verrier, N. (n.d.). Adoption: The primal wound. Effects of separation from the birthmother on adopted children. Adopta.HR. https://adopta.hr/images/pdf/the_primal_wound.pdf

References

Creating a Family. (2017, April 12). What adoptive parents need to know about the primal wound. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/adoptive-parents-primal-wound-2/

Gerich, M. (2020, April). Attachment rich parenting: Could tantrums be an opportunity to connect with your child? Child development clinic. https://www.childdevelopmentclinic.com .au/attachment-parenting-598250.html

Huj, H. (2017, May 11). Parenting tips: Time-outs & time-ins. Theravive. https://www.theravive.com/today/post/ parenting-tips-time-outs-and-time-ins-0003102.aspx

Parent Map. (2012, September 26). Discipline: Is time up for time-outs? https://www.parentmap.com/article/disci pline-is-time-up-for-time-outs

Shaw, G. (2015, September 5). Disciplining toddlers: Time in or time out? WebMD.

Siegel, D., & Bryson, T. P. (2014, September 23). ‘Time-outs’ are hurting your child. Time. https://time.com/3404701/discipline-time-out-is-not-good/ https://www.webmd.com/parenting/ features/disciplining-toddlers

Verrier, N. (n.d.). Adoption: The primal wound. Effects of separation from the birthmother on adopted children. Adopta.HR. https://adopta.hr/images/pdf/the_primal _wound.pdf