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The Importance of Waiting
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with young children, I am often asked one question again and again, “What can I do to help my child at home?”
My answer: “WAIT”
While this may sound easy, it is actually quite difficult to put into practice. We are now accustomed to getting what we want and need immediately. Gone are the days of waiting for photos to be developed. We no longer have to wait for the morning newspaper to arrive to learn about the previous day’s top stories. And we definitely are not waiting for the mail for updates from our friends and families around the world. With the amazing advancements in technology, we can (usually) get what we want with a simple click of a button. This is why the concept of “waiting” is so hard!
When teaching parents about waiting, I often suggest to “wait expectantly” for 5 seconds before giving a child what they want. To demonstrate this strategy, I will offer the parents a toy (e.g., a car) and I will begin my expectant waiting. I lean forward, look at them, and look like I am about to say the target word (in this example it could be “car”). I tell parents I will wait for 5 seconds to show them how long that can feel. Typically I don’t get to 5, because one of the parents has jumped in and said the word. They report feeling “awkward” or “uncomfortable” and indicate that they felt compelled to fill in the silence. This exercise teaches parents 2 things:
- The power of waiting: By using expectant waiting, the parents felt enticed to say the word. Isn’t that what we want to happen for our child? We want to create a situation where there is a need AND opportunity to communicate. By not giving the object right away, and by waiting expectantly, we are setting up the situation to encourage our child to say a word.
- Waiting is hard: While waiting is a powerful tool, it is not easy to do! Even when told up front that I will wait for 5 seconds, it is hard for us grown-ups to sit with quietness for that long. We are used to fast paced conversations, and when there are pauses, we want to fill those in. Parents need to understand that by filling in the words too soon, we may be limiting our child’s opportunity to say a word.
So what can you do at home? Get comfortable with the silence. Realize that by waiting, you are showing your child that their turn in the conversation is valued. You may be surprised by what you hear when you wait!