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The Magic of Wait Time

The Magic of Wait Time

Young children’s brains process things at a much slower pace than our adult brains and thus require us to S L O W D O W N in order to engage them in full participation and understanding of a situation.

Have you ever noticed that when your child feels rushed to respond they are much more likely to have a meltdown or the situation quickly becomes a power struggle? This is not a coincidence and there are ways to help limit the number of meltdowns and power struggles. Note: all meltdowns will not be avoided, and this is good and healthy, but the unnecessary ones will lessen, the ones where if we would have given the child more time the outcome could have been vastly different.

In our fast paced culture, busyness, multitasking and rapidly checking things off the never ending to-do list are celebrated and slowing down is sometimes seen as lazy, ineffective, and at the very least; difficult to maintain.

Too often we act as if everything we want babies and toddlers to do or not do is dangerous or an emergency when more often than not this is not the case. Babies are not ready for our fast paced world and appreciate when we meet them where they are at. (True emergencies of course call for a swift response.)

Giving babies and toddlers an appropriate amount of wait time can be a game changer for your relationship and the overall dynamics of the day, not to mention, your child’s self esteem.

What Wait Time Looks Like

Counting in your head vs. counting out loud

We’ve all heard the phrase “I’m going to count to three…” or “When I get to the count of three you better…”. Not only does the adult’s frustration seem more pronounced in this approach, but it’s a big trigger for the child and in no way encourages calm cooperation.

Instead of counting out loud and distracting your child from processing your question or request, try slowly counting to 10 in your head. This allows you to take some deep breaths and have a calm demeanor while ensuring your child has plenty of time to respond. Once you get to 10, if your child does not respond physically or verbally, you can calmly state your question or request again. Your attitude has a lot to do with how effective this approach will be. If you are calm and confident that your child can and will respond, they are much more likely to.

Giving Choices

Babies and toddlers are humans, and all humans have opinions and preferences. Offering choices is respectful and allows young children to have some control over their life.

Two choices are an appropriate amount. It’s not overwhelming, but rather shows the child you value them.

  • “Should we put your shirt or pants on first today?”

  • “Would you like to wear the red bib or the blue bib?”

  • “It’s time to put the washcloth away, you can put it on the table or in my hand”

  • “I don’t want you to play with the remote. Please put it in the basket or on the table.”

Even young babies need time to process what we are telling them so they can prepare their bodies for what is to come. Pausing before moving forward with the next thing allows them to anticipate and fully participate to the level of their current ability.

Spending the extra time giving your child pause will most likely take less time over the course of the day than responding to avoidable meltdowns and power struggles.

Wait time. Try it. What have you got to lose?

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