Teaching a Child to Wait is Teaching a Child to Trust

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Wait.

Just wait.

It’s all a mother could want from a 2-year-old child.

I have seen it happen. Every now and again I see glimpses of perfectly calm babies waiting patiently for food, drinks, attention, stories, trips to the park and even sweets. They are a wonderful sight, but it always feels a little like seeing a unicorn. It is an exception to the norm, not the rule.

Most of the time, when I am out in the world, I see children losing their minds. I see tantrums and screaming and crying and craziness. I see parents rushing to meet their children’s needs, parents hurrying about to get food or a requested drink bottle. Most of the time I am left with the opinion that it must be impossible to teach a child to wait.

So, can we expect children to wait? Is it possible? And if so, how do we do it? Well, tell our children to wait. We tell them to wait over and over again, allowing them to practice waiting until they get good at it.

I first came across the concept of making children wait in the wonderful Parenting book BRINGING UP BEBE by Pamela Druckerman. In it, Druckerman speaks of the French Pause. It is a well known parenting technique in France, but to the Druckerman the America, it seemed a little insignificant. Well, tell our children to wait. We tell them to wait over and over again, allowing them to practice waiting until they get good at it.

The French Pause is where a French parent will wait just a moment before going to their child. It is not intended as a punishment or deprivation in any way. It is simply an easy way of letting the child know that you don’t always get things immediately. It is a way by which a parent can begin to introduce the idea of waiting to a child.  Well, tell our children to wait. We tell them to wait over and over again, allowing them to practice waiting until they get good at it.

A French Parent will pause for a second when their child cries or calls out and listen intently to the call. They will decode the message hidden within the call and meet the child’s needs accordingly, after a couple of minutes.

Many parenting experts would baulk at the idea of making children wait. It seems to have long ago been collectivly heaped together with the technique of letting your baby Cry it out, Abandoning your child, and generally not meeting any of their needs. But this is not true. Most French parents would be horrified to hear there are people leaving their children alone in their cots to cry for long periods of time.

Teaching a child to wait is not about leaving them alone to cry. Teaching a child to wait is about moments where the child myust entertain themselves, distract themselves, remember their manners and be in control of their own actions. Teaching a child to wait is about teaching them a life skill.

How do you teach a child to wait? We teach a child to wait in the same way we teach them anything.

  • Firstly, you need to explain the concept to the child.
  • The child needs to see it demonstrated a number of times and understand what is being spoken about.
  • The child then needs to understand the rules – What is acceptable and what is not acceptable. During this phase, there is no point in punishment or discipline as the child does not know what is the right and wrong behaviour.
  • Once the child has a clear idea of what is expected – ie, smiles a lot and grins proudly when doing the right thing and is cheaky or looks guilty while doing the wrong thing, then it is time to introduce consequences to their actions.
  • Introduce concequenses for the child’s actions, nothing major, just a chain reaction. For example, “When you scream and cry in public, we have to go home.” And then take the child home immediately. No arguments.
  • The child will also need a consequence for positive behaviour as well. For example, “When you are a very happy child who is happy to wait a few minutes, we can go out for lunch and you can have special-sometimes-food.”
  • Remember they are learning so much information at a young age, and may just need to be reminded of the rules again, as they had forgotten.
  • We tell them to wait over and over again, allowing them to practice waiting until they get good at it.

But what does it really mean to ask a child to wait?Have a think about what you are really asking when you ask a child to wait. What are you really asking them to do?When they want or need something, they ask for it. Asking them to wait for it, means they need to trust you enough that it will come.

When you ask a child to wait, you are asking them to put their own needs to the side for a moment and be patient. You are asking them to put other people first before themselves, you are asking that they be happy with your attention being shared for a moment, and you are asking them to trust you.

Asking them to wait, means they need to trust you enough that it will come. When you ask a baby to wait a moment for their dinner, they need to trust that you will remember to give them their dinner. When you ask a baby to wait before you pick them up, you better be sure that as soon as you’ve finished your job, they are the first thing you lift into the air.

When you ask a child to wait and not interrupt a conversation, you better make sure to give them the time to speak and your undivided attention when they do.

When the trust is broken, why would they wait, because they don’t know if ‘it’ is ever coming.

When they don’t know if you are going to get them a drink of water, they will panic, and demand the water now – And keep reminding you over and over again because you forgot the water once, so you might forget the water again. If you want your child to be able to wait a few minutes for water, you better never forget the bring the water.

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