Take a “Time-In”: Teaching Your Child to Self Regulate

These tips are provided for the Melissa & Doug blog by Cindy Utzinger, pediatric Occupational Therapist.

“Go to time out.”   Those are words that probably most of us parents have said at least once in our time as parents.

I want to tell you about an alternative to time out that I find can work better; that is “time in”.   As kids get older, learning to self-regulate becomes important for them.  By self-regulate, I mean the ability to control their tempers and emotions; and it is our job as parents to help them learn to do this.

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A great way that I have found to help my children to learn to self-regulate is to send them to “time in”.  I make sure they understand that they are not in “time out” and that this is not a punishment.  I help them to understand, instead, that this is a chance for them to spend a few minutes by themselves to regroup while they get over their anger, frustration, bad mood, or when simply discombobulated.

Think about it, aren’t there a lot of times as adults that we would be better off to walk away from a situation to recompose ourselves rather than voice our frustration or do something that we will regret later?  It is important for our kids to learn that it is not always best to act on their feelings, but instead take a few minutes to regroup.

“Time in” should be a place where the child can go and be by themselves that is quiet and where no one is allowed to bother them.    This may be places such as under a desk, in a closet, in a corner of their room, or maybe even in a small tent in their room or homemade fort.

I also love to fill “time in” spots with things that are comforting to the child.  Some of the things that work great are large bean bag chairs, favorite stuffed animals, soft blankets, soft pajamas, and books.  Melissa and Doug’s Beeposh line is full of soft stuffed animals, lounge pants, and slippers that work great for this purpose.

The key is to make sure that “time in” is a quiet spot that will help bring a child down and not stimulate them any further.  Low lighting and being able to listen to their favorite music can also be helpful.

You and your child can find and “design” their “time in” spot together and talk about how and when they can use it.   As an example, my daughter’s “time in” spot is in a corner of her room with a bean bag chair, stuffed animals, her lava lamp, and books.  She also goes straight to her drawer to get out her Beeposh lounge pants to put those on while she decompresses.

Learning to self-regulate does not happen overnight but if we, as parents and caregivers, can consistently help children to identify their feelings and help them to identify and use strategies that will help them cope, one day we will realize that all of that hard work paid off!!

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Cindy Utzinger is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, handwriting tutor, and founder of Building Write Foundations LLC.  She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young children (a son and a daughter).  In her free time she can be found running through the streets of her neighborhood to get some exercise or enjoying time on the lake with family and friends.  Through her website (www.cindyutzinger.com) she provides parents, teachers, and caregivers with information regarding the importance of building each and every child’s sensory foundation and provides ways to help build their sensory foundation and their foundation for learning.  Through her website she also blogs and tackles issues dealing with handwriting problems, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and diagnoses on the autism spectrum.