I started Time-In to help my son build his emotional coping skills. I soon discovered that the person who needed Time-In the most was me.
Time-In gradually becomes replaced by Time-Out as children grow.
Time-In with infants is as natural as breathing. With babies, soft kisses, tender touches, snuggles, holding hands, and whispered affirmations happen spontaneously throughout the day. We pause multiple times a day out of necessity to care for a baby’s needs, often giving our undivided attention as we care, soothe, teach and play. You could say an an infant’s day is a series of Time-Ins.
As our children grow older and become more independent and vocal, Time-In naturally decrease. Adults begin to focus more heavily on rules, structure, and behavior. In the process, we begin seeking behaviors to correct and doling out consequences. Without meaning to, our Time-In is replaced with Time-Out.
A 4:1 or Greater Ration of Positive to Negative Interactions
A wise children’s therapist recommended that my husband and I focus our energy on Time-In recently, suggesting we set a goal of 50 pats or praises per day. Adults have a habit of ignoring the good stuff our kids do and focusing on the “Why do you always?,” “Why can’t you?,” and “I already told you!” Our goal should be a 4:1 or greater ratio of positive to negative interactions, according to the therapist.
50 pats/praises a day might sound like a tall order, but much of this is praising positive behaviors your child is already displaying. It’s also about providing short periods of positive, undivided attention throughout the day. Time-In is a wink, a pat, a kind word, and sitting together.
Undivided Attention is Key for Me
I quickly realized a major challenge while implementing Time-In: I suffered from distracted parenting syndrome (DPS). DPS caused me to “listen” to a child while checking my cell phone, fiddling with my calender, supervising another child, or finishing up a project in “just a minute.” I thought of myself as tuned-in to my kids, but I was only paying half attention and they knew it.
Once I made a concentrated effort to have Time-In with my full attention, life with my kids came into focus. I found myself once again noticing their unique quirks, witnessing small kindnesses, sharing in a joke, and simply enjoying the moment. As I focused on the moment, my usual distractions became less important and interesting. On the days I implemented Time-In, I found myself catching the good stuff more and focusing on the bad stuff less.
Time-In Through Touch
Many Time-Ins are about a simple touch, with no words needed. It’s a pat on the shoulder, a high five, dancing, holding hands, sitting together, or hugging. My family has always been affectionate, but I found that creating a goal for Time-In with each child daily increased our family’s trust and unity.
Time-In Through Nonverbal Attention
It’s amazing what a wink and a smile can convey. When you’re a parent of four, sometimes you can’t give your child the undivided Time-In they crave at the moment. You can let them know you’re aware of them, see something positive they’re doing, or that you simply want to connect with a wave, a high five, or a thumbs up, though.
I think we sometimes confuse praise with spoiling a child. Verbal praise helps a child know that you recognize positive behaviors. Praise encourages a child to continue making good choices, with the reward being positive interaction. To give detailed praise, you can use simple phrases like:
Good job, _______.
I like the way you are __________.
My Favorite Time-Ins
Our family prioritizes eating dinner together, but we weren’t doing the same with breakfast. When I leave my cell phone in my bedroom in the morning and sit down with the kids to eat a bowl of cereal, they are more likely to get ready without being asked.
When my kids arrive home from school in the afternoons, I’ve made a habit of focusing 15 to 30 minutes on them with all electronics turned off. This time isn’t about asking questions or teaching. We don’t have a long “What did you do at school today?” conversation. It’s often about sitting together and letting them guide the conversation or suggest an activity for us to do together.
Nonverbal attention through a private smile or a wink across the room is probably my favorite Time-In, tied with random hugs and whispered “I love yous” as secrets. These can happen while my children are playing quietly or while I am busy working, making dinner, or blogging.
Time-In is for Parents Too
Building the Time-In habit showed me that our transition to Time-Outs left me craving Time-In too. If my child makes a negative choice, but we have experienced Time-In together, we are both less likely to lose our tempers. My children are more open to redirection if our Time-In ratio is right. I am more patient and better able to choose my battles when we implement Time-In as well. Most of all, Time-In helps me be the positive parent I want to be.