What is Time-In?
There are strong opinions on both sides of the time-out debate. But whether you are a supporter or opponent of using time-out, everyone should be a big fan of using time-in.
It is easy to notice when your children aren’t listening, when they are fighting, or when they haven’t cleaned up after themselves. Constantly wagging your finger and pointing out the less-than-desirable behaviors sets a negative tone all around and doesn’t motive children to try to do better.
Alternatively, time-in is a positive method of catching your child being good. You as the parent are highlighting and acknowledging the behaviors that you want to see more of. This includes behaviors that may be particularly difficult for your child (such as sharing) or behaviors that you would naturally expect your child to do (such as washing his/her hands after using the bathroom). Acknowledging the good is a way to let your children know that you are aware of what they are doing, even if it consists of meeting basic expectations.
We All Love Attention
Time-in is important because we as humans love social attention. We work hard to gain the attention of others on a daily basis. Even as adults, we continue to try and gain attention and praise from others. Think of when you go out to a special dinner with your partner. Maybe you get dressed up a little nicer. Are you doing this because it makes you feel good about yourself? Of course. But there is probably also some piece inside that hopes your partner will notice as well. Or think about how you feel if your partner says, “Honey, thank you so much for cleaning up the kitchen tonight. I really appreciate it.” Wouldn't that make it all worth it?! We all like to be acknowledged for what we do, even for the expected, mundane tasks.
Children work the same way. They love your attention. They even get into trouble so that you will pay attention to them (be on the lookout for a future blog post about how much children love negative attention). So why not be proactive with your attention by letting them know that you are noticing the good? Yes, it is much easier to quickly wash the dishes while your children are off somewhere playing quietly. But when you acknowledge how nicely they are playing, it shows them that you are still aware of what they are doing. The hope is that your children will repeat those awesome behaviors again in the future as a result of the positive feedback you provided.
How to Do Time-In
What does this look/sound like? There are three basic components: praising, describing, and reflecting (thank you Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Sheila Eyberg). Each is a way for you to acknowledge your children's behavior to let them know you are noticing.
When you praise your child, tell him/her something specific that was done well. Move past the standard “good job” in favor of, “good job putting those blocks away by yourself or “nice job starting your homework without me even asking.” You can throw in a quick kiss on the top of the head or a small shoulder squeeze for extra emphasis.
When you describe your child's behavior, try to channel your inner sports caster. Describe exactly what your children are doing. For example, “You’re getting out your homework sheets.” Or, “You were really patient coloring that picture!” Or, “Wow, you put your dishes in the sink all by yourself.”
Reflecting is restating comments that your child made. If your child says, “I got my book report back and I got an A. I worked so hard on that assignment,” you could say, “You did work hard on that assignment.”
Although these three suggestions sound easy, I challenge you to provide 10 statements praising your child, 10 statements describing what your child is doing, and 10 statements of reflecting your child’s comments in a single day (when I work with parents, they need to provide 10 of each within a 5-minute period). The reason I suggest that you count is to help train yourself to recognize the many positive behaviors that your children do on any given day. Really! Keep a sheet of paper with you to tally up how many praises, descriptions, and reflections that you provide to your child. So often, we are acutely aware of what our children are doing wrong and leave all the positive behaviors unnoticed. By focusing on time-in, you can train yourself to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative*,” which is a way more upbeat and fun way to interact with your children.
*Lyrics written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen