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{Taking a Time-in} Self regulation skills that will last a lifetime - Great tips to stop yelling before you start!

Happy Family Habit #11: “Time-Ins” for the Whole Family

Image Credit: © Alexandre Normand | 06.09.13 & 04.30.12 | CC by 2.0

I’m so honored to have my friend Zina from Let’s Lasso the Moon  participating in our Happy Family Habits series.  I relate so much to Zina’s parenting philosophy and just adore her blog.  

Today she’s sharing TONS of great tips and resources for stopping melt-downs in both ourselves and our kids before they even start. Above all else, this post just made me feel incredibly hopeful about what I could achieve with this simple idea.  Grab a pen, you’re going to want to take notes, I promise.

Be honest… When was the last time you yelled at your kids?

Sometimes right before a major “parent fail,” I can actually see myself about to fly off the handle, yet I still can’t seem to diffuse my emotional momentum in time. Can you relate?

Most days, I’m as cool as a cucumber and can handle a tantrum like I’m Super Mom. Other days, the littlest bit of whining triggers a nasty, snapping response in a voice I can’t believe just came out of my mouth.

What if I told you, most of the time, family meltdowns can be avoided? {Ok, you can laugh now.} But, honestly, stay with me on this…

There are three main factors nearly always involved with dramatic meltdowns:

1. Hunger. A hungry child is a recipe for disaster. (And, just between us, you’re no picnic when you’re starving, either.) Click here for tips on healthy snacks, on-the-go stashes, and meal planning.

2. Physical Exhaustion. A tired child is more likely to act up. And you’re more likely to snap when they do. Click here for family-friendly ways to ensure everyone has energy.

3. Mental Unease. A child that feels “out of sorts” can quickly fall into a downward spiral. When they feel “off” from something as simple as just having “one of those days,” they can become emotionally unraveled. As a parent, when you feel drained or overloaded, everything — and everyone — around you suddenly becomes a source of frustration.

So, what’s the best way to deal with fatigue, in whichever of these three forms it hits your family?

Instead of taking a TIME-OUT, treat yourself to a TIME-IN. This is a personal skill that will help you and your child over a lifetime. I promise.

Time-ins are a restorative way to avoid meltdowns and create an ongoing sense of peace within your home.

We’ve all read about, and have our opinions on, traditional time-outs. A time-in, at our house, has nothing to do with discipline. It’s a simple way to proactively stop a situation from spiraling out of control. The catch? The children and the parents need to participate, openly and completely.

How do you spot when a time-in is needed?

Start implementing time-ins by watching your own thoughts and emotions. Are the kids driving you crazy? Take a moment to breathe and ask yourself: Is their behavior actually inappropriate, or are they just being kids and I’m feeling randomly annoyed? If it’s the latter, treat yourself to a time-in to regroup.

The goal is to pause BEFORE your emotions escalate. The same is true for your children… Start to watch for small signs that they’re feeling “off.” You know your child’s personality better than anyone. Watch for subtle shifts in energy or particular facial expressions or catchphrases.

Enthusiastically suggest they treat themselves to a quick time-in to refresh, regroup, and recharge themselves before the situation has any possibility of being associated with a punishment.

{Happy Family Habits: Taking a Time-in} How to have a more peaceful home *So trying this

What does a time-in consist of?

A time-in can take a variety of forms. Generally, when a family member takes a time-in, it ranges from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the situation.

A time-in can mean a variety of things for your little one: a quiet solo craft project (we love having a subscription activity box on hand for moments like this), taking time to sit quietly to write or draw, looking through and reading a book, or even playing music softly. My daughter also enjoys using videos and books to do kid’s yoga on occasion.

{Happy Family Habits: Taking a Time-in} How to have a more peaceful home *So trying this with my kids

At our house, we prefer battery-free options for the kids. Handing my daughter an iPad to play a game solo would just get her even more wired. However, that doesn’t mean quiet time with a game or digital book isn’t the best solution for YOUR little one. You understand your child’s needs best.

Below is a great list of time-in suggestions for some quiet time and independent play:


As an adult, you have a little more freedom with what a time-in could mean for you. Explore different ways you could reset yourself, depending on your schedule, environment, needs, and interests. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Meditate. You need exactly 5 minutes and 33 seconds to find peace in the chaos. Here is a great collection of free mindful meditations. (*This is my personal default time-in.)
  • Take a walk. It doesn’t have to be a big, scheduled thing. Even a brisk walk around the house or block is enough to cool yourself down in a pinch.
  • Read some enjoyable fiction. Ok, you can read some serious non-fiction too, but be sure what you’re reading won’t make you feel additional stress or fatigue. The point is to feel restored, not riled.
  • Listen to an audiobook. If you’ve got a really young child and can’t leave them solo, consider taking a time-in with an audiobook together for a few minutes. Never tried them? Here are a few tips on getting started with audiobooks.
  • Dance. Release any pent-up negative energy by shaking your booty, either solo or with your little ones. “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.” ― Martha Graham
  • Do yoga. This can be hard when you always have a little one underfoot. Here are some suggestions to work toward kid-free yoga.

On a personal note, I’ve found that defaulting to playing on your smartphone or checking updates on your social networks doesn’t work well. The break always feels too fast, and your mind doesn’t have the opportunity to truly recharge.

Be the change you wish to see in YOUR FAMILY.How do you get started using time-ins?

Start with YOU. Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The same is true here. Be the change you wish to see in YOUR FAMILY.

Start by giving yourself a time-in when the kids are around to hear and see you do it. Try using statements like these:

  • “I’m feeling out of sorts and just not myself. I’m going to treat myself to a time-in and go read my new book I’ve been looking forward to for 15 minutes.”
  • “Mom can feel the cranks coming on. I’m going to my bedroom to take a time-in and meditate for a few minutes alone. I’d be happy to make your snack for you as soon as I’m done.”
  • “I’m feeling a bit blah right now. I need some energy. I’m gonna take a time-in and do a few yoga stretches to help my brain and my body feel better.”

It takes a bit of practice to get into the habit of giving yourself a time-in, but the results are astounding.

I highly recommend that you talk to your partner about tag-teaming your time-ins. And give them advanced permission to suggest a time-in when YOU seem to be acting out of sorts. When that situation arises — and it will — don’t get angry at their suggestion. Instead, smile, know they’re probably right, and take them up on it! Remember to stay positive.

If you’re parenting solo, create a game plan for yourself. Something as simple as plopping your child in front of the TV is a good start: “Honey, sit here on the couch and watch PBS for 5 minutes. Mommy needs a quick time-in.” Look for safe ways to keep your child entertained so you can reset when you need to.

Master showcasing this practice for yourself, then start helping your child recognize when they need a time-in, too. Play with these simple phrases:

  • “You look like you’re feeling out of sorts. When that happens to me, taking a time-in and reading always makes me feel better. There’s a Reading Picnic with snacks all set up for you on your bedroom floor.”
  • “It looks like you had a draining day at school. Why don’t you grab the iPad and listen to an audiobook with your headphones in your room? I’ll grab you a quick snack.”
  • “You look like you’ve got a case of the blahs. I’ve set out the markers and a paper in your room. Be sure to show me your drawing when it is done.”

The ultimate goal is self-regulation… for them and for you. I still remember the first time my daughter told me on her own that she was going to take a time-in. It was music to my ears!

Proactively taking charge of your emotions — BEFORE they take charge of you — is an important life skill. Give your child a head start on that skill by teaching them to self-regulate with enjoyable time-ins now.



Zina is the author of Let’s Lasso the Moon, where she inspires parents and children to interact creatively and enjoy the beauty of everyday moments.

Connect with Zina online→
Pinterest | Google+ | Facebook | Sulia | Twitter | Blog

Below are a few of Zina’s recent posts on parenting:
The Missing Part of the Sharing Equation
A Lifetime of Yes Moments
5 Tips for Getting Kids to WILLINGLY Donate Toys

*Post contains affiliate links.



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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin February 25, 2014 at 9:44 am

Any suggestions on time-ins for parents of toddlers and toddlers? Most of the time if I leave my 2-year-old alone for 5 minutes something ends up ruined or covered in something.


Amy @ Maker Mama February 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

I love everything about this, Zina! I’ve been learning the importance of drawing closer when emotions are rising in our family, too. I’ll definitely be keeping these great time-in ideas in mind!


Iluska Ikeda February 25, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Absolutely! I’ve been trying to work on these for myself and didn’t even connect the dots. Of course the kids can do it too. I’m not a big fan of time-outs and have never actually used them, but time-ins… Something to try. Thank you for this wonderful post!


Jessie Rae March 1, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I LOVE this! I already kinda do this for me and my daughter. We both have some anxiety and it easy for us to flip out. I’ve been calling it an Early time out. Taking a break before we freak out, but I never really suggested for her to do anything except read(she LOVES to read). I’m going to implement everything you wrote about to help us both. THANK YOU so much:)


Brenda March 26, 2014 at 9:02 pm

I use honesty in those moments –“I’m sorry I was agitated with you, but Mommy needs to eat.” Freshness and short temperedness are countered with “You need to check your tone and attitude.” No breaks needed; but correct apologies required: “I’m sorry I lost my temper, but no one was listening to me.” Result: connectivity with their emotions at all times in off moments; an apology, and then move on. My girls are teenagers now with conflict resolution skills, and an understanding of their emotions, (not to mention mom’s also).


AmieJo April 2, 2014 at 10:01 am

I can relate. I am going to try this. I always try to do way to many things in a day and my young kids get me so annoyed that I yell. I know that sometimes the oldest one is being naughty but often it is me trying to do too much and expecting them to understand and and do what I am asking them to do. They are much too young to understand so I am going to try this. I think it will help. When I am feeling it come on I will take a break and play with them because that is what will help them to feel better. I may not get as much done right then but in the long run I think I can get more done because they will of had their mom time and then be ok with playing alone.


Denese May 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I am going to try this. It sounds great and everything the counselors have been suggesting towards. We have been looking into all kinds of trial and errors for ways to stop a tanrum from spiraling out of control and how to prevent them all together. Thank you for this as I have been researching for weeks for something to fit the whole family not just a single individual. I feel this will take us all to new lengths and create more security and love and trust with no more yelling, no more hurt feelings and etc that seemingly just fuel the fire. Again, I want to say thank you.


Dawn June 5, 2015 at 9:36 am

This is awesome for developing skills to collect oneself and also take care of ones one mental peace. Something we have created in our family is “the island”. The concept came from remembering visions of lazy Sunday’s with your spouse where you stay in bed (the island), read the paper, and just BE without the obligations. I started this with my daughter when life has us rushing (and mommy needed downtime), since she was 2 when she was out of sorts and I could tell she wasn’t getting enough cuddle time, spending a quiet morning alone with Mommy on the island . Now at 6 she will ask me if we can do the island sometime this week. I am happy she knows what she needs and misses and not just my offer. These times are precious, just cuddling, reading books, or even a boardgame if we can sit still 😉


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