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Time In: An Approach to Building A Cooperative Relationship with Children

As children grow and move through the stages of developmental milestones, they are natural explorers of their environments. Part of this exploration includes making mistakes, demonstrating determination, testing limits and demonstrating impulsive behaviours. Children are constantly growing and learning and need the support of the adults in their lives (RECE’s, parents, guardians) to guide their way.

Children thrive when they are provided with opportunities to be curious, inquisitive and creative. They learn to be cooperative when they are respected, involved, and listened to. As Registered Early Childhood Educators, sometimes we need to take a step back and re-evaluate our approach when intervening to support children having difficulty with emotionally regulating in challenging situations.

When you observe undesired behaviour, or “misbehaviour”, from a child, ask yourself what is it that you want them to do. Do you want them to stop doing something? Do you want them to learn to problem solve? Do you want them to self-regulate in a safe manner?

Through our modeling and guidance as Registered Early Childhood Educators, we can demonstrate and share information and resources to support parents in altering their disciplinary strategies. We can educate parents, caregivers and other professionals working with children to use the “Time In” approach as opposed to “time out”. Time In is a more effective and appropriate strategy to implement when supporting children through their angry, frustrated and upset emotions as well as aggressive behaviours. 

Time In is implemented by designating a quiet, comfortable area that is to be used for calming and regulating emotions, regrouping and child-directed down time. It’s a place where comfort is available (i.e. pillows), and company too, if requested through both verbal and non-verbal actions (i.e. a child reaching to hug a caregiver). Children are provided with the opportunity to engage in comforting, soothing and appropriate play.

A Time In area is implemented in the following way: a child becomes upset and re-direction doesn’t work, or, they have demonstrated unsafe behaviours such as physically injuring a peer or adult. A caregiver can suggest the designated Time In area and offer to go with them. They can sit together and read, work on a puzzle, squeeze playdough or cuddle with a doll. When the child has calmed down, the incident that took place beforehand is discussed. The discussion will include acknowledging the emotions the child was experiencing and discussing appropriate problem solving strategies for the next time a similar situation may occur. When the child feels ready, they can rejoin their peers.

Time In Breakdown

  • "Time In” is not “time out”; it is not to be used as a punishment, but rather a break from a certain situation. 
  • “Time In” supports the disregulated child who appears to be over stimulated by the environment and needs a break. It’s a space that can make a child’s world seem smaller, so they feel safer, and have the help they need to regulate. 
  • “Time In” is designed to help a child calm and regulate so that he/she can express their needs (or wants) appropriately. 
  • “Time In” is a place where comfort is available if requested (both through verbal and non-verbal cues). 
  • “Time In” teaches children to learn more about self-control. They are learning vital skills that they will be able to use for a lifetime. 
  • “Time In” allows a child the opportunity to play quietly with a quiet toy or activity. 
  • The adult stays in close proximity to the child. 
  • “Time In” should be a reasonable length of time. The child may be able to verbally tell you when they are ready to re-join their peers in play, or your observations of the child can be cues to you that they are ready (i.e. the child slows down their breathing and their body appears relaxed).

*As with any strategy or approach, always keep in mind the developmental age of a child. Be careful of expecting behaviour that is beyond their developmental capability.*


Positive Discipline Resource Center. Time In – An Alternative to Time Out. Retrieved September 30, 2015.

Jean Illsley Clarke. 1999. Time-In: When Time-Out Doesn’t Work. Parenting Press Inc., Seattle, Washington.

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Contributed by Diana Sansalone, Resource Consultant ~ Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital