The power of the pause

conversation, preschooler, pause, patience, parenting
Need your child to wear a sweater on a chilly morning? Try placing it on a chair and saying, “Please put this on,” then walking out of the room. It will probably work better than nagging.

Adults forget that young children need time to process what is said to them. Preschoolers understand the words, but thinking about them and then acting on them can take a minute or two. The most effective parents know to wait before following up a statement with a repeat or an action. The most frustrated parents keep saying what they want over and over, and don’t give children a chance to think and then comply.

Parent nagging and child ignoring can become an uncomfortable dance that repeats itself throughout the day and escalates into yelling and crying.

Placing a sweater on the chair and saying, “Please put this on,” and then walking out, can often get a parent out of the house faster than standing there nagging. Of course you have to know you have the child’s attention when you make the initial request but, if you do, trust that your child heard. It doesn’t always work, but it often does.

Teach children to pause after they make requests of others and they will be more successful socially. If they learn to ask and then wait for an answer, they will not run into trouble with teachers and other children will share with them more readily.

What we are talking about here is respect for the space between a request and a response. Everyone is in such a hurry these days that we undermine the building of a collaborative relationship with our children. Here are some ways to make a request that you can use when cultivating your ability to pause before you pounce:

  • “I wonder how long it will take you to … ?”
  • “Listen. It’s time to … ”
  • “The clock says … ”
  • “Think a minute and tell me what you choose (to wear, to eat, to play). Come find me when you know.” (Or “I’ll check back after I finish what I’m doing.”)

Pauses are powerful when conversing with children, even if there is no request being made. Conversation with a young child is slow.

Very often, at 3, children start to stutter. It is very normal developmentally. Their thoughts are coming faster then their ability to form sentences. Learning to slow down and listen patiently until the words are all out is not always easy, but it is important. Parents are often tempted to jump in and finish the sentence. Sometimes that is appreciated, but first give it a little time and let the child know you are interested and will be patient. After the child talks, and you answer, the response to what you said also will take a bit of time.

Instead of “let’s go,” “let’s do,” “let’s move,” make taking a deep breath and pausing part of the relationship.