Time in: guiding your child's behaviour

A ‘time in’ approach to guiding children’s behaviour involves staying close to your child when they are overwhelmed and having trouble managing their behaviour.

It’s about staying connected with your child while you help them calm down and feel safe.

It does not mean giving in to what they want or rewarding the behaviour you don’t want.

Over time, your child will learn to manage their own feelings and behaviour.

Benefits of time in

Staying with your child during time in helps them to:

  • learn how to calm themselves down
  • manage feelings such as fear, disappointment, frustration, jealousy or anger 
  • learn that while some emotions might not feel good they are nothing to be scared of and can be managed
  • feel safe - they learn that you will not abandon them or punish them when they are having trouble with feelings or behaviour
  • learn how to solve problems when things go wrong.

When your child is out of control

If your child is out of control, stay calm and take charge. Your child needs you to be a wise and kind guide. Let them know you understand how they feel. 

You might say: ‘I can see you feel upset/angry/frustrated because…you really want that toy…want to go outside…want to go to your friend’s house…your feelings are hurt’.

Use holding, rocking and a soothing voice to settle young children. If they don’t want to be touched, stay close so they can come to you for comfort when ready.

Let them know they will soon feel calm again.

After your child has calmed down

When your child has calmed down, reassure them that you love them.

Help them name their feelings. They will feel more in control and have less need to act out their feelings when they have words to say how they feel.

Help them find the feeling that led to their behaviour.

Even though your child may seem angry or frustrated, underneath they may feel powerless, fearful, jealous or disappointed. They will gradually learn to understand all their feelings.

Talk about the behaviour that is expected and help them to understand what happened.

Keep the reasons short and simple. You might say: ‘I know you want to play with your brother’s truck but it’s not OK to hit him’.

You should:

  • tell and show your child what they can do next time - help them learn the words they need to ask for what they want
  • not shame or make fun of your child, or tell them they are silly or naughty - it can hurt them and have an ongoing impact
  • be patient - young children need lots of practice to learn what is expected of them.

Create a calm space in your home

Create a calm space in your home where children and adults can go to feel calm and relaxed.

Don’t call it 'time in' because your child may see it as where they go when they are bad.

Ask your child what they would like to have there to help them feel calm, like soft toys, books, bean bags or blankets.

Get in early if you see your child getting upset and suggest you both go there.

You could say: ‘I can see you’re upset because you want to play outside. Let’s go to the calm space and work out what you can do until the rain stops’.

Time out

‘Time out’ is when an upset child is removed from a situation and sent or taken to a place to sit alone. They are left to calm down and think about what they’ve done wrong, and to change their behaviour.

Why time out is not helpful

Time out assumes your child already knows the right way to do things and can work out on their own what you want. 

Young children do not have the skills to understand what causes their behaviour or to work out problems on their own.

Time out does not teach your child what to do. It only teaches them what not to do, and does not help your child learn to manage strong feelings and out-of-control behaviour.

Time out might trigger a child's fear of being left alone. They can feel abandoned and forget why they are there.

Time out can send a message that big feelings are bad. Your child might push down upset feelings so they can leave time out, rather than learn to manage their feelings. 

These feelings may show up in other ways, with your child becoming: 

  • rebellious
  • defiant
  • withdrawn
  • anxious.

They may also show signs of stress like stomach pains and sleeping problems.

Time out can encourage battles because your child feels a sense of injustice at being sent away.

Even older children can feel angry or hurt when sent to time out. They may not be able to think about how to do better.

Getting help

When upsets happen, the most important thing is to make sure your child is safe.

If you feel angry, you might need to take some deep breaths or step away for a moment until you are calm.

If your child’s behaviour pushes your buttons a lot you may need to talk with a doctor or counsellor.

More information

Find out more, including where you can get help to manage your child's behaviour, on the following pages: 


This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.

Last updated: 08 March 2016

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