Sometimes Kids Need a “Time In” More Than a “Time Out”

When parents see other parents dealing with a child in the midst of a Grade A meltdown, we universally give each other the sympathy smile and nod which means: “I feel you!”  But note, if a parent doesn’t extend this courtesy to us while our child is melting down…well, we don’t like that very much now, do we?

My point? (And let me start by admitting that I am nervous to say this out loud—and I also realize no two kids are made the same and every family is different!) But, basically, what I am about to share with you is the idea that “do unto others” applies to our kids, too. This parenting approach comes from a place of, “Hey this has worked for us, and maybe it will work for you, too.” Anyhow, here it goes.

Do unto others

One of the most important messages my hubby and I want to send to our kids is this: you need to treat people the way you would want to be treated. This includes our kids. Let’s put it this way, if a friend or a co-worker was having a bad day and was angry, difficult, or melting down, would you tell them to go sit in a time out or drag them out of the mall or coffee shop? How would you feel if a friend did this to you when you were having a bad day? You might feel humiliated or like you were being dismissed. Maybe you would feel unheard and not important. What kids probably need most in this situation is a “time in” or a reset, with you helping them find that button. This takes time, I know, and a lot of patience, but for us it has saved time in the long run because the kids can now access those tools on their own.

Try a “time in”

I struggle with children being given a “time out” or being told to simply stop it when they are angry or frustrated. Someone told me very early on in my parenting journey to stop and rule out the variables of what really might be happening with our child in that meltdown. Are they tired, hungry or over stimulated? I treat them the same way I might treat a friend who is melting down. Is that friend embarrassed? Are they over-worked, over-tired and just need to vent? Who do they need me to be to help them get through their meltdown? Shouldn’t we also be that person for our kids?

Demonstrate empathy

Kids test boundaries, of course, but they also have meltdowns when they feel embarrassed, tired, mad or frustrated. While staying calm, we can have an age-appropriate conversation with our child, asking them simple questions like: “What’s going on?” or “Why are you so mad?”  Just like you would with a friend.

If our child is too upset to express what is bothering them, we just sit with them quietly until they calm down. Like you would with a friend. Some of these sitting sessions can last for quite some time, while others last a few minutes. The result is that the kids feel listened to and safe to tell what is bothering them. We demonstrate empathy while sharing ideas on better ways to cope with their feelings.

Respect their emotions

Now, make no mistake: this style of parenting is not an open door to be a pushover for our children, or to let them be the boss. But I have 
honestly noticed, as our kids have gotten older—and as we continue to respect them and theiremotions—their meltdowns have become less frequent. They will verbalize when they are angry or frustrated and ask if we can have a talk in their room. They are comfortable talking openly about the “volcano-exploding on the inside,” as we call it at our house.

I know this may not sit well with a lot of parents. Some may even think we are quite wacky to say this out loud, but it is our style and it works for us. If it helps alleviate some of the meltdowns in your house and gives you some special moments, then that is a win for all.

With love,


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About the Author

Cheryl Hickey

Cheryl Hickey

Family first that is how it is, how it was and always will be. Who am I? Well good question! Like most people I battle that question from time to time. To make it short and sweet I have been in many of your homes all across Canada over the years from working in news, […]

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