Time-In: The Foundation of Parent-Child Relationships

The concept of “time-in” seems so simple but it is often overlooked once children grow older. We get busy. We are tired. There are a million things to do. However, everyone needs ‘special time’ with their partner, spouse, parent, friend. Somehow, as we grow older and our lives become even busier, it is easy to forget the small things.

I first learned about “time in” when I sat in on a 22-week parenting group. This was before I had kids of my own. I had been running a foster care clinic in Seattle and was seeing well intentioned foster parents struggling to care for children entrusted in their care. Children who were acting out because of the stress and scariness of losing their parent, their home. Sometimes they acted out because they were angry and tired of all the change, all the uncertainty. Some children were placed with strangers. But sometimes children were placed with family friends or relatives.. but for that moment, it was not with their parent. All this translated into a difficult time for all.

I learned a tremendous deal during that parenting group led by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, the developer of the Incredible Years parenting series. I also learned that pediatrics residency had not prepared me for the tough questions that these foster parents had and the even tougher behaviors the children were having. It didn’t feel right to medicate these children just to “calm them down” or “make their anger or aggression more bearable.” These children needed security, routine, structure and the repeated knowledge that a nurturing and caring adult was in their corner.

In that group, I learned Dr. Webster-Stratton’s approach was to teach the skill of “time in” no matter if the parenting group was for prevention of behavior problems or for treatment of them. She ALWAYS started with building that foundation. I learned if parents do not make an effort to do “time-in”, “time outs” won’t work. This is because time outs are essentially an extended ignore and if parents are not  giving children positive attention in the first place, time outs won’t make a difference.

Time-In simply refers to spending one-on-one time with another person without life distractions. For young children, the word “time-in” often conjures up images of parents on the floor playing with their children. However, even as we grow older, time-in is just as important. It can be that ‘check-in’ with your high schooler after practice while driving home or the family conversations over dinner.  Time-in means going back to the basics of just focusing on your child and being sensitive to their cues, their need for attention. We can forget that even with all the material things we can buy our children, our time and presence is what matters the most.

Educating parents that children thrive on attention is important and should start early. Attention can be positive (hugs, kisses, praise) or negative (yelling, reprimanding); in the end, children just want our attention. If parents give positive attention freely, kids won’t have to act out to get attention. This concept applies to all relationships. Water and tend to your friendships and they blossom and thrive; neglect them and friendships wither and slowly lose touch over time.

Always go back to the basics.

Below are a set of handouts focused on “Time In” to be used with families to discuss the importance of this essential positive parenting skill.

Time In English (English).*

Time In Spanish (Spanish).*

Parent-child Time-In Love Note Activity (It’s Challenge Time).*

*Please retain copyright in lower right hand corner.

For more information about The Incredible Years, go to www.incredibleyears.com

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