Tuesday, October 25, 2016


A couple years ago, a mom shared in a parenting class about how one time, she knew something was bothering her ten year old son, but he wouldn't share it with her.  Instead of nagging at him, she decided to wait.  

"Is there something bothering you?"  

No response.  

She waited for 45 minutes.

Finally, her son started talking about his day at school and what had happened that was bothering him.

Waiting for our children to complete a task can be extremely frustrating, but there's a point to waiting it out.

A couple years ago, I learned something from my wife, Sara.  She used to be a child-development home-visitation social worker.  One thing she mentioned to me one time was that infants and toddlers have a much lower processing speed than adolescents and adults.  

When reading a book, we might say, "Where is the car?"  For a toddler, it might take up to ten seconds to point to the car.  It is pointless to keep asking the question because the child needs the time to process the question in their brain, and then more processing time for the brain to figure out how to move the hand to point to the car in the book.  

To muddy the waters a bit, let's talk about obedience, disobedience, and waiting.  A couple months ago, my daughter was really having a hard time laying down for me to change her diaper.  I found myself fighting with her, trying to get her to lay down.  I decided to wait and see if it would simply take her more time to lay down.  

"Can you lay down so I can put your diaper on?"

I waited.

She stood up.  She wanted to touch pictures on the wall and then to hold me and get off the changing station.

All of this took about ten to twenty seconds.

"Can you lay down so I can put your diaper on?"

Then she laid down and I changed her diaper.

This has been working reasonably well for the past month or two.  It seems she needs time to process completing the action, especially when it isn't something she wants to do in the first place.

But, it took waiting on my part.

I take my daughter often to the park.  Sometimes, I decide immediately that I want to leave and that we're done.  My daughter is getting old enough that she often decides she doesn't want to leave right away.  If I try to force her to leave and call it disobedience, then I'm missing out on her processing speed.

Instead, when I remember, I tell her we are leaving in 5 minutes.  Then, we are leaving in 4 minutes.  Then 3.  Then 2.  Then 1.

"Okay, time to leave now.  Let's get on your bike."

Almost always, she is much more peaceful about leaving if she gets this countdown.  Her toddler brain is processing what is going to happen over a 5 minute time span.  

It requires waiting on my part.

By the way, I don't think this countdown is just for toddlers.  I bet it is effective for a number of age categories all the way up through teenagers.  

"Hey guys, we're gonna leave in ten minutes.  Make sure you finish doing whatever you are doing with your friends, okay?"

So often, we chalk up refusal from our kids as disobedience, but maybe it really isn't about that.  Maybe our kids simply need time to process something over a period of twenty seconds, 2 minutes, or 45 minutes that our adult brains process instantaneously.  When we wait, we give them the opportunity to complete the tasks that we are asking them to do.  I'm not saying it always works like this, but I believe that if we try waiting instead of nagging or punishing that we might get more out of our kids than we think is actually possible.

(Photo taken by permission of Nils Endrikat at flickr creative commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/nilzxx/)