[Time’s Up] Time in or time out?

In a recent article, we looked at why our little kids act up, then we looked at what to do when they don’t listen.

Here’s the final part in the constellation: how to enforce meaningful consequences when necessary…

Time Out and Time In are two effective parenting tools that could really help you curb unhelpful, destructive, or disobedient habits in your youngsters.

Instead of constantly having to brainstorm consequences on the run – both of these can be used for a wide range of scenarios and ages…


As we already know, when kids are not feeling their best, they tend to act their worst. This means that they often need love and connection most when they look and act like they want it least.

In our home, Time In works well for kids of all ages (even tweens and teens).

We implement a Time In when someone hasn’t done anything wrong (yet) but is clearly starting to lose control of their emotions, and draining the house of its good vibes.

Time In is a great tool for these occasions…Instead of wielding it like a weapon and as a ‘bad’ punishment, we frame it as something helpful that we all need from time to time.

Here’s how we practically use Time Ins:

“My boy, you’re clearly not in a great mood and it’s starting to affect all of us. I think you need some time on your own to cool off and recharge. Would you like me to take you to your room, or do you want to go on your own?”

In her younger years, our fiery daughter (on the verge of a proper meltdown) would thrash in outrage and protest at the prospect of a Time In.  We’d calmly and gently pick her up and take her to her room. After a while, she always calmed down and thanked us for gently intervening. We’d then sit with her and talk about big feelings and how to process them a little better next time.

When one of our youngest sons was acting up recently, my husband used this entertaining illustration, “Your horses are freaking out, your pigs are squealing, and the ducks might get trampled… it’s time to calm the farm!”

This made our boy stop his meltdown for a moment and say, “Calm the farm. I like that daddy.” Taking him to his room, my husband added, “When the farm is calm, please come and join us again.” I loved his honest reply: “OK, but I might need to stay here for a while…”


Empathizing with a child’s feelings is one thing, but dealing specifically with their misbehavior is another (and just as important).

It’s our job as parents to not only nurture and encourage our kids but to also correct and confront unhelpful behaviors that (if left unaddressed) could ultimately hinder their progress in creating a healthy, happy life.

Allowing our kids to experience some negative consequences when they overstep clear boundaries is a time-tested way to help them reconsider their errand ways!

The bottom line is, that all little kids sometimes wonder, “What will my parent actually do if I ignore them and their rules?”

Having a non-random consequence in your toolbox is great for these moments. Now let’s get really practical:

Consider a Time Out when a child has already done something wrong. Try to have ‘golden rules’ that are not allowed and let your children know these. Examples:

  1. Don’t damage things
  2. Don’t hurt someone
  3. Don’t endanger your life
  4. Don’t quickly obey clear instructions.

Time Outs work especially well for children aged 2-6.

  • If they break one of the four rules, calmly name what they did wrong and say, “Time out – go to the bathroom (or wherever you designate Time Out to be).”
  • Choose a place that is safe, not scary, yet ‘boring’ for your child – not a space filled with their toys for example.
  • If they don’t immediately go on their own, walk or carry them there.
  • Try to remain calm, and perhaps say, “Oh no! Look where your not listening has got you!”
  • The door does not need to be closed.
  • If they won’t stay in the designated place, you can let them know you’ll have to close the door if they continue to not stay of their own accord.
  • In general, assign a minute in Time Out per their age in years; so 3 minutes for 3-year-olds.
  • Don’t react if they react dramatically, and don’t try to stop them from reacting either (pick your battles)!
  • In the most caring way, simply say, “I understand you’re very upset, but you’re staying in Time Out for not listening. I’m right here outside.”
  • At the end of the allotted time, welcome them back, and if relevant and age-appropriate, ask them to apologise for their actions and expect them to correct their behavior.
  • If they go straight back to doing the very thing they were put in Time Out for, take a deep breath, and start the process all over again!
  • The first few times you consistently and calmly put down boundaries like this, your child might try to push more of your buttons and boundaries than ever before – but calmly, firmly hold your ground!

*Time Outs work with older kids too, but generally, kids who are 7 and older benefit from more nuanced, relevant consequences. For example, if an older child doesn’t do their homework or a school project—allow them to explain why to their teacher and suffer the relevant school consequence. Moms, don’t rush to alleviate the uncomfortable consequences that life naturally gifts our children with when they choose to make unwise choices!

You’ve got this – and you’ve also got their best in mind, as you lovingly, calmly lead them toward a better way.


  • Time Out is to change their ways. Time In is to calm their farm.
  • Time Out repairs. Time In prevents.
  • Time Out is in a safe but sterile space.
  • Time In is in a calming, quiet place, like their bedroom.
  • Time Out ends when the parent says it does. Time In can end when the child is calmer and ready to rejoin the family.

Good luck mums,

May we all manage to keep our own farms calm as we do the hard, unseen work of raising the next generation of kind, confident, amazing people!

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