Experienced parents often want to share with foster and adoptive parents how to raise their children, they may tell you to put your child in time-out, spank them, and offer a plethora of other solutions. Problem being, a biological child thinks very differently than a child who’s worried about where their next meal will come from, if someone will come when they cry, if that someone who comes will hit or kick them. Raising a hurting child looks different, and that’s okay. Because it looks so different, I am here to give you solutions that do work. So, here are some reasons
why time-in is better than time-out for a hurting child.
1. Sending a hurting child to their room causes them to feel fear.
Many of our children lived in fear before they came to us. They were left alone, or felt lonely before they came to us. They had to provide for themselves, they worried for their life, their safety, their siblings safety. They lived in fear (even infants). Bryan Posts says,
“There are only two primary emotions: love and fear.”
By placing our children in time-out we are sending (unintentionally or not) them back to that fearful place. By keeping them close in a time-in, they don’t feel alone and a need to fight for their safety. Or at least with consistency, they will learn they don’t need to fight, flee, or freeze.
2. Hurting children don’t have the ability to self-regulate.
Hurting children are unable to regulate their emotions, and they need our help. Dr. Bruce Perry says, “When infants and children are incapable of meeting their own needs, they depend upon the external regulation that comes from attentive, caring adults.” When a hurting child is sent away from us to a time-out they are not regulated, and this will send them backwards, healing won’t be taking place. By keeping them close in a time-in we are able to help them regulate their emotions. Or, if they are dysregulated, we can be near them so they can learn we won’t abandon them.
3. Being alone doesn’t heal.
Was your daughter in an orphanage before she came to you? Was your son neglected before you brought him home? Are you doing foster care? Did your child come from foster care? All of these children have been alone. Even infants who went through a tumultuous time in utero can feel alone. Keeping your child near you will aid in the healing process.
“Loneliness is the most significant disability of our time” ~ David Pitonyak
4. A hurting child can’t calm the chaos on their own.
A hurting child’s brain is chaotic and they’re used to the chaos. The trauma your child’s been through has created a brain that looks drastically different than the brain of a child who has been raised with loving and nurturing family members.
A traumatized child tries to recreate that chaos in their real world because the calm makes them uncomfortable.
5. Time-outs don’t build trust.
When we send a child to time-out, they don’t know if they can trust us. A hurting child has difficulty trusting caregivers. Why? Because they have been let down by someone, and those first trust bonds were catastrophically broken. When we keep our child close, they learn that we can be trusted and we won’t send them away for negative behavior.
6. Time-outs don’t build relationships.
Think about a marriage relationship. If a couple is in disagreement about something, it doesn’t usually help if one partner leaves the situation. Neither does it work if the two don’t talk about the issue. In doing so, the problem may go away for a short time, but will surely resurface again.
It’s very similar in your relationship with your kids. Sending them away will not build your relationship, it will put a great big pause button in the middle of it. The Child Trauma website says, “Relationship brings safety, comfort, and soothing.” Relationship is the key element of attachment.
7. The lack of feeling safe makes our kids want to control their environment.
Your child’s fears stem from their life prior to meeting you. Those fears don’t leave because they have a new family. As I said earlier, trust has been broken, and it will take a long time for trust to build back up. You will need to provide an environment for the assurance of safety and love to grow. What better way to show them they’re safe than having a time-in for negative behavior? Placing them in time-out only capitalizes on their fears of not being safe, and they will then seek control in any area they can.
“When they [traumatized child] sense something is wrong (that the body is stressed), they activate the brain’s alarm systems. These stress-response systems then acts to help the body get what it needs.” – Dr. Bruce Perry
In the post, Why Consequences and Rewards Don’t Work, I give some other ideas on what to do about discipline. I want to reiterate what I said in that post; consequences and rewards won’t make a big difference in your child’s behavior until they have bonded significantly. Yet, it’s still very important to kindly let your children know they aren’t in charge. If your child feels they can do anything they want, they don’t feel safe; boundaries are essential. You can implement some consequences and rewards, which will set a foundation for the future and begin teaching them how to function in a family.
It’s also very important to understand that many times negative behaviors come about because your child is trying to communicate.
Look at what your child is trying to say, are they hungry, tired, frustrated, emotional because something else happened, lonely, wanting one on one attention? Do they have sensory issues? Is their body irritated by their clothing, are the lights bright, is the room noisy, is their chaos? There are so many factors to look at, so try journaling behaviors to see when they happen and what transpired before them. We don’t want to simply discipline our children, we want to find out why they’re acting out. The article How DoYou Support People with Difficult of Challenging Behavior gives great ideas on how to look for the “why” behind a persons behavior.
Time-ins can be accomplished with the child in your lap or if you must complete a task while the child is in time-in, they can be in close proximity. Some of you may question having the child in your lap as a consequence, but as you read above, our children came from different circumstances, so different techniques are used to help them heal. Being in your lap is not a reward, but does keep relationship in play.
I hope this helped explain why time-ins are better than time-out. If someone in your life repeatedly suggests that you put your child in time-out or that your kids need more discipline, feel free to share this with them, maybe it will help them understand your child.
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