Alternative To Time Out

An alternative to time out

Last week I wrote about some suggested Discipline Strategies from the Tripe P Parenting. I noted in this post that early in my parenting I had tried time out, but found that it didn’t sit comfortably with me and I didn’t find it an effective tool in dealing with my child’s behaviour. I have mentioned Louise Porter on the blog many times before and her wonderful book Children Are People Too. It is from this book that I found an alternative for time out which fitted with my parenting philosophy and was effective in disciplining my kids when they lose control and behave in a way that I find unacceptable.

What Is Discipline?

To best understand how this alternative works, I think it is helpful to look at what is discipline:

The true goal of discipline is to teach children the rules of behaviour. They need to learn what society and other people expect of their behaviour. This will help them grow up to be socially productive and personally fulfilled individuals. Achieving that delicate balance is the art of disciplining children.

Dr Benjamin Spock

For me discipline is about trying to teach the kids the way in which they need to behave. So when my kids misbehave, doing things like hitting, screaming, or being uncooperative – these are all signs that they have for that moment lost control of themselves and the ability to regulate their behaviour. I need a discipline strategy that will help them regain their self control.

Bringing Children In Close

The technique that Porter advocates is that when children have reached a point where they have lost control of their emotions that instead of sending them away, you actually bring children in close to you. This

“…tells them that you are willing to help them, reunites you after you have been struggling with each other over the behaviour, and teaches them the very skill that you are wanting them to learn – namely, how to get back in control of their emotions. Cuddling them does not do that task for them, but it does give them the support they need to achieve it.”

Bringing children in close sometimes work when you can easily bring them close and cuddle them until they have regained composure, but there are also those times when they are so out of control, that you need to use what Porter refers to as “the hold”. You bring the child onto your knee and calmly hold them securely so they cannot lash out at you. This is not time to try and talk to them about their behaviour and as Porter notes:

When someone is drowning that is not the time to give swimming lessons (Faber et al 1995)

While holding the child, Porter recommends only minimal talking and saying things like “I understand that you are upset. I’ll hold you until you feel better.” We say things to our kids like “We can just sit together until you can get yourself calm.” or “I know you can get calm, I will just wait with you while you do this.”

The first time I did this with a preschooler, I thought it was never going to work. My son seemed to get angrier and wanted to break free from me. I persisted with it and it did take at least 15 minutes for him to calm down, but eventually he did. I could feel the calm making its way through his body and “the hold” then turned into more of a cuddle. Then when he was again in control of himself I let him up and we both went about our business. The next few times we did the hold it still took some time for him to calm down, but the more we used it, the quicker he became at regaining his self control.

I have used Bringing Children In Close with all my kids from about 2 – 6 years of age and while it can take some time for them to adjust to it, the long term benefits have been worth the effort. If I am aksing the children to do something in the house and they are unhappy about it, there has been many times that a preschooler has realised that they are starting to lose control and ask for a cuddle or a “huggle” as my current preschooler likes to call them. By taking the time to give the huggle, I can help the child to adjust to the idea that he has to do something that he really doesn’t want to do (like tidy up!).

If you are looking for an alternative to time out, I highly recommend Porter’s book Children Are People Too. It contains much useful information on “the hold” and details guidelines for its successful use which include:

  • Make sure that you do not get hurt.
  • Use it for all tantrum forms.
  • Use the hold often.
  • Be flexible.
  • Accept their feelings, but not their actions.
  • Keep them comfortable.
  • Encourage them.
  • Go the distance.
  • Tell them about it in advance.
  • Do not punish.

For me the benefits of using the hold are that it shows the children that I am serious about not accepting that behaviour from them, but that I am also prepared to help teach them how to manage their feelings, as opposed to leaving them on their own to deal with them.

As I noted in my last post on discipline strategies all families are different and what may work for one, might not for another. I would be interested to hear if anyone else has tried “bringing them in close” and how they found it as a mechanism to teach children self control.


  1. says

    Time out just doesn’t make sense… not to me, and especially not to the child….

    Holding close is much more logical and real and helpful for everyone involved I think.

    • says

      We have certainly found it helpful Kate, especially in the long term. As the kids have grown older, they have learned the ability to self control (most of the time) and it is very rare to have to help them with it.

  2. says

    Excellent post and a great technique. Sometimes when your world is spinning out of control having someone to help keep you grounded physically is a much needed thing.

    I’m so glad that my girls don’t mind being held, I know many children on the autism spectrum object to being touched and that would hurt so much.

    • says

      I was wondering how this might apply to children with autism, as I know that often they don’t like to be touched. It would be quite hard to find a way to help them calm themselves, without this.

  3. Catherine says

    No, I’m not a fan of ‘time-out’ or the ‘naughty corner’. I’ve never felt like it fosters a supportive environment – just an authoritative and threatening one (ie if you don’t do what I say I’ll send you away until you do). I will however ask them to choose another room to play in if I am very cross with their behaviour so that I don’t say something unfortunate until I’ve had a chance to calm down too.

  4. says

    Bringing children in close for what will ultimately be a cuddle versus sending them off in the cold for further heartache… A lovely concept, so intuitive.

  5. says

    I have used the “bringing them in close” strategy. This works especially well with my special needs children. I don’t think ‘time out’ is all that’s it’s cracked up to be.

  6. Sarah Dawson says

    Wow! I have never heard of ‘bringing them in close’ and will give it a go. I love the idea that it is fostering them to draw near to you.

    But I will also go against the grain a bit here too…. I do currently send my children to time out. I send them there just long enough for them to calm down and gain their own control, so that then we can talk about what happened without anger or frustration and then reconcile with cuddles and kisses. So maybe it is also how time out is used???

    Thanks for the post Nicole, because I read your last post about not doing time out, I did stop and wonder… trying to come up with an alternative.

    • says

      It is always the first question I get after I tell people that I don’t use time out – what do you use then? I guess for me when I briefly tried time out, it felt like punishment sending them away and just didn’t sit right with me. I appreciate you sharing your experiences Sarah and adding to the conversation.

  7. says

    Princess is very violent when she loses control these days, so I do often pick her up and put her in her room for a couple of minutes until the screaming has lessened, and then I ask her if it’s okay if we sit together and hug and have a chat. I’ve usually put up with a bit of smacking and kicking before this stage. I do try to cuddle and talk before it reaches this stage, but she becomes very single-minded at this time, so removing her from the shared space (if I removed myself she would simply follow me) has become necessary for her to re-focus.

  8. Cara says

    Thanks for these thoughts and strategies. I am a mum of 3 under 4 I find motherhood a constant struggle. I use time out as a discipline strategy for my eldest as a way for him to know that there are consequences for his behaviour. We always talk after the time out as to why he recieved the time out. However, I am always wanting to think through new ideas as I think parenting is a journey and we are never going to get it ‘right’. We learn, aquire wisdom, make mistakes and even crumple in a heap sometimes.

    I am intrigued by how holding them close works at a practical level. For instance, my middle child who is 2.5yrs and not talking has enormous tantrums. Sometimes I don’t even know what he is tantruming about. I do cuddle him when I can and it is definately effective. However, with a young baby who needs feeding and settling – I cannot always be available for my two yr old to cuddle him. Any thoughts?
    I can see how this strategy works for children when they lose control of their emotions but how does it work for outright disobedience? When they ignore my instructions, say no or are cheeky or rude to me? How does this strategy effectively deal with these issues? I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

    • says

      Louise Porter actually defines the types of tantrums children have and she says that the most common type of tantrum is being uncopoperative and recommends a number of strategies that you can try before using “the hold”, like helping them start, letting them save face, changing your mind, cognitive restructuring, reciprocal contracts.

      With regard to your other children needing you when you are holding one child, she recommends explaining that the other child needs you and you have to attend to him/her – be flexible with it. I have personally done this myself. I have just explained that I have been upset by his behaviour, but i need to go the baby and cannot help him to get calm. I ask him to please try and calm yourself (if they have a comforter I have given that to them) and explain that we will talk about it later.

  9. says

    Wow I never realized something so simple could be so effective. We normally put our son in time out but it just wasn’t sitting well and did not seem to be as effective in calming him down.

    I tried this for the first time today and will be sharing this with my hubby this evening. I think we have found a new action plan to deal with hissy fits!

    Thank you!

  10. Angela says

    I discovered ‘Children Are People Too’ via this blog, and love the ideas discussed in the book. I was a time out parent prior to this and it’s effectiveness was hit & miss, which was usually determined by the childs depth of loss of control. I have since used bringing in close, and found it successful from the first try, as others have noted. It does take longer when implementing but as Nicole notes, it does become familliar to the child and more effective in a shorter time frame as you become consistent at using this method. I found that sitting in the hold and barely talking as described, also helped the calm to wash over me as well as the tantrum thrower. Then when order has restored, we can discuss the behaviour without the attached emotion from either side. Thank you for Planning Queen, I have definitely learnt valuable things here! ;-D

    • says

      Thanks so much Angela for taking the time to leave your comment – I love hearing that something I have shared has helped others. Your thoughts here will also encourage others to give Bringing Them In Close ago which I think is fantastic!

  11. says

    I’ve never thought of it this way but I have done it! And you’re so right, it is very effective. I must admit, I don’t use the technique as much as I should, but it definitely does make sense. Especially if I think about how I feel when I’m in a situation where I’m losing control. A “huggle” helps a great deal. It’s obvious it would do the same for my children! It’s so funny, but realising this while reading your post made me feel a little emotional yet refreshed! Thank you!

  12. Katie says

    This sounds great to me, but I’ve got a question on how to apply it when my 2-year-old is emotionally in control yet happily disobeying (laughing as he dumps things on the floor or climbs on counters, etc. – typically when I am nursing my 5-month-old). And my biggest concern is that he likes to run down the street without me (not in the street, but on the sidewalk in front of driveways with big cars…). He acts like it’s a game (he doesn’t run off when he’s upset, it’s just when he wants to play). I’ve tried time-out to try to solve this, but it has been very ineffective. However, my concern is that cuddle time after these behaviors will reinforce them, not stop them. Ideas?

    • says

      HI Katie,

      This strategy can be a little difficult to get your head around. Often once you implement it, it begins to make more sense. For example if you child has climbed onto a shelf and started dumping things off it, try bringing him in close, telling him succinctly that he needs to sit with you until he is calm enough to behave in a safe way. You will most likely find that he will not want to sit and be held by you at all and will start to struggle (this is my experience with my kids anyway). That is when you need to move from more of a cuddle to a firm hold to keep both he and you safe.

      If he does it while you are breastfeeding, you might like to try something like this which has worked for me. Ask him to clean the up what it is he has dumped. If he doesn’t, then explain that once you have finished feeding the baby, you will come and help him get calm, so that he can clean up the mess that he has made. Then once you can put the baby safely down, move over, pick up your son and sit him on your lap. Again you will most likely find that he will struggle. Wait calmly with him and tell him that when he is calm and prepared to pack up the mess, he can hop down. It may take some time but I have found that it is worth it. I will often work slowly with the child to pack up the mess to reinforce our connection, but making it clear that behaviour needs to me improved.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Sarah says

    This strategy is basically what we do with our 2 year old. It helps calm my husband and I’s tempers too :)

    I do have a a hard time sometimes with it, though. Sometimes, our little guy will do something he knows usually gets him a cuddle-like going to be violent with the kitten. I think he just wants to make sure we’ll still hug him when he does that, but sometimes he’ll look at us mischievously, go kick a cat or something like that and then run back and say ‘huuug’. I can only tell when he’s about to do that sometimes. I just don’t want it to turn into a reward or, like time-outs seem to do, make it into something that says-it’s ok to kick the kitten or hit a friend as long as you hug afterwards. Is this typical testing or is it in the Children are People Too book?

    • says

      Hi Sarah,

      Your right that it is not ok to behave in this way and then just have a hug afterwards. The thing that Porter stresses in the book is that you should remain with the child until they have regain control over their emotions/behaviour. Have you tried making it more of a hold, where by he has to sit on your lap with you until he can regain his control and not hurt others?

      • Sarah says

        Thanks for your response :)

        I do make it more of a hold when he needs it, but I also don’t want to hold him down. What I’ve found works when he’s out of control is asking him to take a deep breath. Sometimes it takes him a minute, but I think he knows it helps because he will take one eventually. I love that he’s able to do that now.

        The times I’m worried about are more the random times he goes and does something like kick or step on the kitten without seeming out of control. He just goes and does and then comes back and continues playing calmly. I usually respond by asking him to apologize to the kitten and telling him that kicking/stomping/hitting/etc hurts. If he responds with ‘no’ or something like it, I’ll get him into my lap or in my arms and wait until I know he’s calmly listening before I repeat myself. It just seems less like out of control and more like testing- you know what I mean? It’s the testing that gets me more than the losing it…

        Anyway, thanks for your input!

  14. says

    I’m off to find this book asap. I admit to having some reservations about practicality however am very willing to give it a good go. I’ve read and tried enough of your recommendations to trust your judgement and we seem to have similar parenting values. And I just like the theory of this strategy anyway. Thanks again.