7 reasons why time-in NOT time-out (adoption/foster)


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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10 thoughts on “7 reasons why time-in NOT time-out (adoption/foster)

  1. I’m a counselor and work in a behavioral program for K-5 children, many of which could be described as the hurting child. I’m wondering how you would apply these ideas to work on behaviors in the classroom with kids who have shown to be unresponsive to the usual rewards and consequences and do have that background of trauma and loss?

    1. Hi Katie, I’m so glad you are interested in helping these students!
      So, here’s what I’m thinking. A Check-In Check-Out program worked well for our daughter, but quite a bit of bonding had taken place before she started elementary school. It may really help kids with attachment issues because it’s a consistent acknowledgment of good behavior throughout the day (instead of once or twice during the day). If you’re unfamiliar with the program please send me an email me (whitts99@gmail.com) and I’d be happy to get a copy to send to you. In this program the child has specific goals for each subject/class period. They take this sheet with them throughout the day, even to their specials such as P.E., Music, and Computer, and they go to a specific teacher to Check-Out at the end of the day. They get a percentage for the day.
      I think this is beneficial for hurting kids because they get consistent feedback, and there can be more discussion about how their behavior can be modified. I believe it would be best to focus on the positives the teachers see, rather than the negative behavior.
      I liked it because when my daughter was on it, her behavior took a drastic uphill climb immediately. Simply seeing her behavior on paper made her try much harder to get a higher percentage. I also loved that my husband and I could talk to her about her day, we knew immediately how she was doing in class, instead of waiting to hear from the teacher or the next week when I would send her an emails asking how Payton had done.
      Also, try to stay in constant communication with the child’s parents, having everyone on the same page is extremely helpful, as I’m sure you know.
      I would try natural consequences, which is a little more difficult in a school setting, but can be done in some instances. If the child throws food in the cafeteria, they need to spend a recess helping clean the tables, chairs or floor in the lunch room. If a child colors on their classroom floor, they need to help the teacher or custodian clean the floor. Basically, if they misbehave beyond talking in class, interrupting, or running in the halls, they need to do a sort of pay-it-forward. It helps them take responsibility for their actions.
      I would still use the rewards if their class uses them, even if it doesn’t make a difference for the child, as we don’t want them to be left out.
      Communicate with teachers as much as possible, find out what’s working for them and what’s not. Consistent communication with them will also help them remember specific children need extra love and support.
      We also don’t want to get down on these kids too hard, if they feel they can’t do anything right, they WILL stop trying. Encourage, encourage, encourage anytime you see anything positive, even the tiniest thing.
      Here are some links to some other articles that may be helpful. Again, thank you for your caring heart, the kids are lucky to have you on their side.
      Make This School Year Exceptional
      Positive Words: How to Encourage Your Foster or Adopted Child
      Wow, sorry this is so long, I think I’m going to need to write a post on this subject!;) If you have any input or questions, please let me know.

  2. Finally someone who is making sense!

    I have a stepdaughter with PTSD and dissociative behaviors. Her mom died 4 years ago from a prescription drug overdose. “AL” grew up with her mom in and out of rehab for alcoholism and her dad, who is in the army, missed over half her life due to deployments. Her mom never bonded with her. She and her dad have no bond. She stuck to me like glue when I came into the picture only a few short months after her mom died. A year after her mom passed it was abundantly clear something wasn’t right. She and her older sister acted out a lot resulting in loss of all privileges. Eventually HL straightened out. AL didn’t. Finally one day her sister found a knife in AL’s backpack. She didn’t remember how it got there. Swore she didn’t do it. Until she got mad. Then she remembered finding it. First her story was she was scared to wait at the bus stop. When I pointed out the bus stop in front of our house and she could wait inside the story changed. She just thought it was ‘cool.’

    She stole like crazy. Pens, pencils, scissors, books, money. Somethings had no rhyme or reason. Often she didn’t remember; until she got mad, then she’d remember everything.

    Fast forward and on top of her mom’s death and addiction issues we found out her maternal grandmother had been molesting her. Her dad would deploy, mom would drop her off with grandma in another state. AL had normalized it all.

    3 years, 4 counselors, 2 psychiatrists, and a psychiatric stay later and she is obky getting worse. All we ever hear are ‘rewards’ which don’t work and will never work. She isn’t motivated and doesn’t think anything is wrong. The dissociation is getting worse. I see 3 distinct AL’s at different times. She claims to her voices. We don’t know whether to believe her or not simply because she lies about EVERYTHING. We fight to get her to shower, brush her teeth, etc. It’s to the point that when her behaviors decrease it scares us because it’s usually a sign that something horrible is on the horizon.

    It’s so hard to find help. She’s only 12 so they are reluctant to diagnose. We are at a loss.

    You’ve given me some hope. We aren’t the only ones. Thank you.

    1. I’m so glad you found Lovin’ Adoptin’, and I really hope the information here will help. You can access other articles regarding these issues under the Contents page, and scroll WAY down. AL has been through so much, and it’s great that you recognize it all, that will be a huge benefit to her. I do want to point out that this will take a long time, she’s been hurt for several years and it will take much time and effort to help her heal. Don’t overlook those strong personality differences though, issues can always go deeper than what I write about here. I’m thankful both girls have such an awesome stepmom!

  3. Tracy, I need help. We have had our little guy, Timothy, for just over a year now….he is almost 2 1/2. We have tried everything except spanking to get him to stop hitting….the last was a cross between a time-out and a time-in….he sat in a carseat in the room we were in ….he could see us and we could talk to him. We tried holding his hands and telling him things like “hitting hurts” and “we don’t hit in our family”, but that didn’t do anything, that’s why we went to the carseat. After reading your post (which I really liked!) I felt like we should stop the time out/in approach and go back to holding hands or picking him up and talking to him. He was only hitting when he was frustrated or angry or hurt (and I can understand that), but now it seems to be random and it’s starting to hurt….a lot. He will walk up behind someone and slap them as hard as he can….it stings for quite awhile. I am at a loss. He is a very smart little guy….he knows exactly what he’s doing and that he’s going to get in trouble for it, but it doesn’t seem to matter … he will keep doing it though he screams during the sitting time (but not always). We’re all ready to throw up our hands in total loss. I have prayed and prayed for wisdom and discernment, but I’m just not getting any. We’re also having issues with not wanting to do what I need him to do (ex. Stop! There’s a street and a car is coming!!!!), but that’s taking a back seat to this hitting thing. Oh, and he throws things…..hard…..almost a big a problem as the hitting. Ugh. Some days I just feel like giving up…..I know…..I feel terrible just writing that, and I won’t, but some days I just feel like it. Oh, and he’s really talented at negative attention seeking…..usually by hitting or throwing. Sorry, I know this is a mess of a paragraph…..I guess what I’m asking specifically is how exactly would you handle this violent sort of hitting and when would you give up on a technique and move to something else? Seems like I would expect to see some kind of change, but not worse. Sigh.

    All that said…..he had a really good day today. We went to church and he didn’t cry at all when my hubby dropped him to his class and we were at a festival all day (outside!).

    Did I ever tell you we have a band? :-thepursellfamilybnad.blogspot.com)


    1. If you can give me some more information that would be great. You can send me a private message on Facebook. Some questions:Does he have the words to express how he feels? What is he frustrated with? Angry about? Do you have opportunities for him to hit (drums pillows), as we had talked before about it being sensory. Is he “look” angry when he hits or does it seem like it feels good to him? How much attention does he get when he’s not hitting, throwing things, or misbehaving? What does he get attention for when he’s not misbehaving? How does he get attention? Activities, his interests, one on one time with mom or dad?

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