Time In vs. Time Out: How to Get Your Kid To Cooperate

Posted on Apr 5, 2021 by 4 Comments

I’ve been reading this book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D., and it’s really changed my perspective on raising a toddler. I’ve been relying on instincts, as I’m sure many (if not most) parents do at one time or another and now I realize that my instincts were leading me astray.

Little things would set me off on a power struggle with my daughter and I (mistakenly) thought that I had to win the power to be a respected parent. Not necessarily the case, I’m finding. It is actually OK to let your little guy or girl win some of the time. For us, the little things are picking up toys, sitting in the chair, eating the food that is on her plate. My two year old has been asserting her own independence on these things (read: choosing to do the exact opposite of what I want her to do) and more. While I’m proud to be raising an independent child, it comes at a cost.

My usual reaction is to become more rigid, more inflexible the more I’m pushed. Defiance sets off a certain reaction in me. I interpret it as my daughter basically giving me the finger, saying, I’ll show you. But, honestly, she’s just pushing boundaries and that is her job. I keep reminding myself - it’s her job.

Back to my instincts being wrong. When Sophie says no to me after I repeatedly ask her to pick up her books (so that they don’t get destroyed - a reasonable request, I’d say), I get so frustrated I feel like I have to “make” her do it. My voice gets uber calm (because, inside I’m sooooo not calm) and I essentially try to intimidate her to do what I say. Or I resort to a time-out. URGH. When this happens over and over again, I become just the kind of parent I DON”T want to be.

What I’m learning is that my child responds quite negatively to this…as I think most kids do. I mean, who wants to be forced in to doing anything? TIme-outs do have their place and their usefulness, believe you me…but so do time-ins.

So, using some of the tools Dr. Karp suggests, I’ve noticed a change around here. Instead of our power struggle resulting in a time-out, I’m been working really hard to give my daughter time-in.

What is time-in? Well, just that, time with Mommy. One on one time without me doing 10 different other things. Dr. Karp also calls this “feeding the meter” and it works something like this. I spend time having an imaginary tea party with Sophie for say, half an hour (or some other activity she likes). To her, she’s getting her way, and getting the message that Mom values her.

The more she gets this message, the more cooperative she is. It doesn’t take that much effort, really, only a readjustment of priorities. Plus, the more time I spend “in” with her the less time she spends in time out. It can even be as easy as 5 minutes every hour.

Sounds simplistic and on the surface it is.

Now, to be fair, it doesn’t eliminate the need for time-outs or magically make a cooperative kid out of a challenging one, it’s just a tool that works. Plus, it feels better than yelling, screaming or getting so frustrated you need a break.

So, the moral of this story: if you find yourself giving more and more time outs, then stop for a second, think about how much time you’ve devoted to being with the little tyke and spend some time in. Let me know if you notice a difference.

photo credit: CarbonNYC

Posted in: Parenting

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  • http://metropolitanmama.net Stephanie

    Thank you for this excellent reminder. It is abundantly clear to me that the more time and attention I give to my children, the more they respond with mutual respect and kindness.

  • Lindsay

    The book has also helped me. I couldn’t believe the difference in my relationship with my 3 year old. We went from arguing to working together. He is so much more willing to help me now that I give him time-ins.

  • Kate

    Ahh, working together - now that should make any mom smile! Thanks.

  • http://naturalfamilyof4.blogspot.com/ shilo

    thank you for all these wonderful posts - I have a 4yr old girl - who is very independent, grown up and very argumentative…things have taken a bit of a turn and i think all the change is effecting this…i am always searching for ways to help her feel more confident in our `relationship` and not so competitive..

    Will be a full time reader!