Wait…a few more seconds

child waiting with parent

What’s the Rush? 

We’ve all done this, we all do this.  Habits are hard to change.

Imagine: You and your young child encounter another grownup you know.  The grownup looks at the child with a smile and asks him, “How are you?” “What are you up to today?” Your child looks at the ground, then up at you, and you quickly answer “We’re on our way to meet a friend.”

What happened?  The other grownup directly asked the child a question and the child didn’t get a chance to answer for himself. No big deal, right?  Actually, children benefit tremendously when they have more time to process questions before answering.  Some adults do, too.

As adults we often experience this rushed world.  We have become accustomed to immediate responses, instant gratification.  At the coffee shop, we expect our order lickity split.  At work, or even socially, some people jump in immediately with ideas or suggestions. Others may have equally valuable ideas but may not articulate them as quickly. We all process information in our own individual way. It’s important to honor a variety of personalities with varying degrees of willingness to speak up in a group.

The Value of Giving Children Time to Respond

Let’s go back to the child.  The value in giving the child 5-7 extra seconds to form their own response is immensely more powerful to that child’s individual development than saving 5 seconds and answering for them.

Why is wait time for a child important? What’s the big deal?

  • Having the support from a valued adult helps a child feel more comfortable thinking for himself and speaking up.
  • We are modeling that we value other people’s ideas and thoughts.
  • Thinking and speaking on one’s own terms builds self-esteem and confidence. This. Is. Huge.
  • Practicing wait time for children to respond is a valuable form of respect.
  • Waiting helps the child who needs more time to process and form a response.
  • If children are always spoken for, they may begin to believe they are unable to speak for themselves.  They may believe their thoughts are not valuable.

Research shows that when a teacher asks a question, the average wait time is one second or less. But when teachers purposely wait a minimum of five or more seconds after a question, children give higher quality and more substantive answers, their self-confidence increases, and they interact with one another to advance discussion. What’s more, children reluctant to raise their hands begin to participate.

Tips on Giving Children Time to Think and Speak 

So what can we adults do to intentionally give a child time to respond?

  • Take a breath.  “Life isn’t a race.” (As learned from my preschool students.)
  • Believe in your mind and heart that the child can think and speak independently.
  • Show on your face that you believe the child can express himself independently.
  • Say nothing and allow the child 5-7 seconds to think and respond.
  • Look at the child. This will help the other adult also look at the child and wait for the child’s answer.
  • For a child who is particularly reserved, it might help to gently prompt or coach, after giving him ample wait time.

What if the child’s response isn’t true or isn’t right?

  • Ask them more questions! This can be an opportunity to gauge their level of understanding or reality.
  • Is it hurting anyone?  If not, it’s probably fine if they answer incorrectly.
  • Ask yourself, what’s more important in the situation, being accurate or being kind?  We have our whole lives to work on accuracy; we don’t have to race there, but kindness can go an incredible distance.  (You can even transmit kindness by accepting a child’s response regardless of its accuracy!)
  • Are they using their imagination?  Childhood is for fun, for learning through play, and it’s a time to make mistakes and figure out reasons.

Now back to habits… It is tricky to hold back from answering for the child if you are constantly doing it.  Perhaps it’s a cultural norm, perhaps it’s a pet peeve.  If we can begin by being aware that we’re not giving children wait time, that’s a step!

Sure, there will be times that you ARE in a hurry and can’t wait a few extra seconds for a child to respond independently.  That’s okay, forgive yourself.  Barely anything about caring for children is realistic with ALWAYS or NEVER.

Here’s a challenge: try it out, ask a child a question and wait much longer than feels comfortable, maybe 7 seconds.  What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations!

 

About Our Guest Blogger

Lisa has been in the field of early childhood for about 12 years, working with children 8 years and younger in Richmond, VA, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Decision Information Sciences from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree of Early Childhood Education (PreK-2) from Lesley University, and a Post Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Practice, Policy, and Research from University of Massachusetts in Boston.  She is aunt to four fantastic nephews and one incredible niece.