In A Magical Interaction we gave you step one in our series on waiting. We showed you what the magic looks like and highlighted the importance of giving your child space to initiate and respond. Now it’s time to perfect your timing to make sure there is space for the magic to happen. It’s time for the Perfect Pause.
Waiting the right amount of time and in the right way to get to the Perfect Pause can be tricky. It’s different for every child and for every situation, and there are basically two difficulties that keep people from getting to the Perfect Pause.
Here are theTrouble Waiting Situations:
- You don’t wait long enough, not giving your child a chance to initiate or respond, and missing the magic.
- You wait too long, or you aren’t clear and realistic with your expectations.
So, how do you avoid those Trouble Waiting Situations and get to the Perfect Pause?
Well, most of us don’t wait long enough. In typical interactions we allow for about a three-beat pause. I ask a question, wait until about the count of three, and if you don’t respond I ask again or check that you can hear me. Children often need more time than that and each child is different in each situation. I’ve worked with children who consistently need 13 beats to respond. Most of the children I work with need five. The best thing to do is practice with your child and find out what he needs. Give him a turn during a very familiar interaction, like peekaboo, or ask him a question that you know he easily knows the answer to, then see how long it takes for him to respond. Keep in mind that a new behavior, like saying a new word or answering a complex question, may take more time than something familiar. Once you’ve practiced enough you’ll have a feel for your child and stop yourself when you’re about to jump in too quickly. The key to this is really self-control and waiting just a little longer than you would naturally. It means really being in the interaction and responsive to your child as your communication partner.
If you’re in the second situation and you think you’ve waited too long, often it really has more to do with lack of energy or inappropriate expectations than it does length of the pause.
Let’s start with lack of energy. If you kind of half-heartedly ask a question to your child just to fill the quiet space, your child probably won’t bother to answer you. If instead, you are truly engaged in an enjoyable interaction and showing your child you are interested in what he has to say, your child is much more likely to take a turn. But sometimes even with a genuinely engaged interaction, you honestly just wait too long. In that case, it’s fairly easy to encourage your child back into the interaction. Skip your child’s turn if they seem disinterested, take your turn again, and then really turn on the Tell Me Face while you wait again. Likely your child will take a turn this time. If not, the interaction may just be finished for now or it may be a case of inappropriate expectations.
Most often I see an interaction between a parent and child fall apart because the parent isn’t clear or realistic with their expectations. So, let’s work on that. In A Magical Interaction I gave you a list of behaviors your child may use to take a turn or initiate an interaction. Those behaviors are listed hierarchically, so figure out where your child is right now in that hierarchy. It doesn’t matter where, because we are going to move forward, but being honest allows you to meet your child where they really are. Once you know that, you want to to stay in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), and ask your child do to something you know they can do, or something they can do by stretching just a little. Asking your child to say “more crackers” when he doesn’t yet use either of those words consistently is not going to happen- it’s out of the zone. So be clear about what you are asking your child to do and make sure it’s developmentally appropriate for your child at that time. Then, finally, respect it when your child does it. If your child finally says, “crackers”, don’t say, “Yay! Now can you say more crackers?” Acknowledge the turn that your child did take a turn by giving a quick “Yay!”, but most importantly continuing the interaction, because the interaction is really the motivation. You can up the ante next time, but enjoy the accomplishment your child has made at the moment. Don’t miss these times to engage with your child because you are too busy trying to “teach” him. With true interaction comes real language-learning.
So, if you’ve avoided the Trouble Waiting Situations and gotten to the Perfect Pause, it’s time to practice. Check out 10 Ways to Practice Waiting!
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