"Macey, stop! I will put you in time-out if you do that one more time," I said.
Macey looked at me with her piercing blue eyes and responded with a wise comment well beyond her five years: "Mommy, you always pay more attention to Cade. You've paid more attention to him since the day he came out of your tummy."
She wasn't wrong. From the moment Cade was born, he has demanded my time and attention. From acid reflux to lack of weight gain to skin problems, he arrived and stole me away from our firstborn daughter. Not abnormally, but certainly annoyingly, Macey has acted out in bizarre ways simply to try to reclaim some of her territory and get my attention again. I've always been a believer in time-outs to correct behavior until I realized the flaw in my recent actions and started thinking about using time-ins.
Macey was acting inappropriately to get time with me. All she wanted was her mom to play with her, be there for her, and validate her. Putting her in time-out meant that I was isolating her and ignoring her need for me. She didn't need a time-out, she needed a time-in. She needed time with me to feel that she's loved and special and to know that she's a priority to me. I've noticed that when I'm present and engaged with my children and they feel deeply cared for, I rarely need to put them in time-outs.
The next time her obnoxious behavior reappeared, I tried something else. Macey has an affinity for sticking her feet in my face, which is so gross. I noticed she was doing this while I was playing cars with Cade. So, instead of immediately sending her to time-out, I asked her a question: "Macey, why are you putting your feet in my face?"
"I dunno, Mom. I just want you to play with me," she responded.
"Come here, Macey," I said.
I pulled her toward me, gave her a hug, and said, "I love you so much. You're so special to me. I love spending time with you. I love having time just you and me. But I don't love what you're doing. I don't ever want your feet in my face. That's really gross and inappropriate."
I continued, "Let's all play cars with Cade until he goes to sleep. Then you and I can do anything you'd like for 10 minutes before you go to sleep. Deal?"
"Deal," she replied.
We happily followed our plans, and I was pleased I didn't have to put her in time-out. I've noticed time-ins work well with our 2-year-old too. He's been hitting and pushing when he gets upset, and I've put him in time-outs to show him that we won't tolerate that behavior. Recently, he got so frustrated with not getting what he wanted that he hit my leg and followed it up with a loud "NO!"
In the past, I would've taken him to our time-out place, scolded him, and told him we don't hit. Instead, I just gave him a hug and held him for a while. I thought about how hard it is being 2 and knowing what you want, but sometimes not having the language to get it out. It must be so frustrating to be him and not quite yet know how to handle a range of new emotions. I held him longer and told him that I loved him. I told him that he couldn't hit, ever, but that I understood what it was like to be frustrated.
Sometimes these littles just want to be validated. Time-ins give me an opportunity to let them know that I understand how they feel and I love them, but I don't love their behavior. Sometimes, that's all they need.