Parents can use Time In to decrease a child’s challenging behaviors

It’s so easy to focus on your child’s problem behaviors. It almost seems like parents are wired to think about what we need to fix, rather than about what is going well. This can be difficult for children, who may start to believe they are unlovable. Parents and children both deserve time when they can truly relax and just enjoy each other’s company. This article describes a powerful way to connect with your child using “Time In.”

Based on special time–as described by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in their 2004 book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and by Russell Barkley in his 2013 book, Your Defiant Child — Dr. Dan Shapiro created his own version, which he calls Time In.

Time In is a specific time that gives children a chance to feel appreciated and understood for who they are. During Time In, your child is able to experience your unconditional love, which can dramatically improve your relationship. It gives children one-on-one positive attention on a daily basis just for being themselves.


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  • get one-on-one with your child
  • follow your child’s lead
  • give custom-designed, positive attention
  • spend time with each of your children
  • plan ahead

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  • begin Time In when you are distracted
  • ask questions, issue commands or teach
  • take part in passive activities during Time In
  • try to change how your child is playing
  • correct serious disruptive behavior during Time In

Sarah C. Wayland, Ph.D.‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do get one-on-one with your child

Time In is about being with your child. It is about devoting your full attention to him or her. To the maximum extent possible, your child should not be distracted by other people during Time In. Neither of you should be able to see or hear other children or other adults. This means that you should do Time In when other children are with other adults, in school or at daycare, asleep, or doing something independently.

Do follow your child’s lead

Time In is for doing whatever your child wants. You can plan this ahead of time, or you can choose a regular activity that you look forward to doing together. Often, it is easiest to just join in with whatever your child is doing.

Start by observing what your child is doing. This will help you ease into his or her world. Once you understand what your child is doing, describe what you see out loud. Think of yourself as a narrator or a sports broadcaster. Be specific and focus on the activity. For example, “Hey, look at the way…” or “That [thing] is going really fast!” Be sure to continue a running commentary.

Do give custom-designed, positive attention

Children like different kinds of attention, so you need to figure out what your child likes best. The goal is to communicate that you appreciate what your child is doing. Positive attention can be verbal or nonverbal.

Verbal praise should involve positive statements about what you are seeing. For example, “That was amazing when you….” Be sure to comment on the effort, not on the child. For example, “I love how you worked so hard to figure that out!” is better than, “You are so smart!”

Some kids prefer nonverbal positive attention. This can be a smile or a wink; a gesture, such as thumbs up; or a reinforcing touch, such as a pat on the back or a high five. For some children, just being there for them is all they need.

Do spend time with each of your children

Parents often begin Time In because one child has behavior problems or developmental challenges that put stress on the parent-child relationship. But siblings of challenging children also need attention. Both parents should plan to do Time In with each of their children every day.

Do plan ahead

Ideally, each parent should do Time In for 15 to 20 minutes each day. Setting aside time like this will require you to think carefully about when and how to make it work.

For some children, start and finish times should be announced ahead of time. Other children, especially older kids, respond better to an indirect approach where the parent seizes the moment as it presents itself, and joins the child in whatever he or she is doing.

Time In can end after a pre-determined period of time or when the opportunity to end presents itself. If it is difficult to end Time In, think about what you can do afterwards that is also fun, such as eating a meal or watching videos together. Experiment to determine what works best for your family.

Think ahead about where you will do Time In. The space should be safe and child-friendly. You do not want to worry about whether your child is damaging something during Time In.

Sarah C. Wayland, Ph.D.‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not begin Time In when you are distracted

Your focus should be completely on your child. Do not do Time In when you are in a hurry or preoccupied. Turn your phone off and don’t try to do chores. It is best to do Time In when you are not rushing off to another obligation immediately afterwards. Clear your mind. This is a time to completely appreciate your child. Remember that Time In is not a way of life. Instead, it is a respite from the normal demands of parenting.

Do not ask questions, issue commands or teach

This can be extremely difficult. We spend a lot of our time as parents teaching and trying to get our children to do what needs to be done. But when you ask a question, give a command or suggest a different approach, you are not following your child’s lead. Remember that Time In is not for teaching or getting your child to do something. Time-in is a break for you and your child.

Do not take part in passive activities during Time In

Passive, self-absorbed or isolating activities, such as watching TV, reading or listening to music, are not the best choices for Time In. When your children are not doing anything, there is no opportunity to observe them or comment on what they are doing. However, if these are the only activities your children will do with you, your nonjudgmental presence may be all they want. Over time, this kind of Time In sometimes evolves into something richer. If this is the case for your child, do what you can.

Do not try to change how your child is playing

There is no teaching or commanding during Time In. So if your child does something you don’t like, you must let it go. If your child is engaging in violent play, say, “That (action figure) sure is angry!” If he or she cheats, act as if the rules of the game have changed. If your child wants to win, let yourself lose. If a toy is used in ways that defy custom, play along. During Time In, you must abandon your ideas about how things should be.

Do not correct serious disruptive behavior during Time In

Disruptive behavior during Time In is extremely rare. If there is misbehavior, it is often because a parent forgot the rules and questioned, taught, or issued a command. Think about it: If you are not expecting anything from your children, what are they rebelling against?

But if your child does misbehave, briefly ignore him/her and return to the activity. If the misbehavior is truly not ignorable or unsafe, end the Time In and try again tomorrow. Do not ever withhold Time In as a punishment. It should be a respite from whatever else is happening in a child’s life.


Time In gives children one-on-one positive attention on a daily basis just for being themselves. When done properly, this change in your daily routine can dramatically improve your relationship with your child and decrease problem behaviors. It is a time when you do not have to question, teach, or issue commands. During Time In, your children do not have to bend to the will of others. It is a wonderful way for your child to experience your unconditional love.

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