Infant and toddler specialist and RIE Founder, Magda Gerber used to say, that when a child is struggling (within reason of course) whether it be working out a toy, stuck on play equipment, in conflict with another child or even had a small tumble and are in shock or crying out briefly, wait…and then after you’ve waited for as long as you can…wait some more.
I have linked a lot this week to the importance of slowing down and connecting with our little ones when we care for them and I have briefly touched on the importance of pausing to allow our children to choose to participate with us during these times; to process what it is they are being asked to do and to get themselves into a state of readiness.
By pausing between telling a child something is about to be done that requires their involvement and actually doing it, it waits for their readiness.
You see, it is in that pause that the child is given the opportunity to be empowered. It is in those extra few gifted moments that they may just be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves. More than that, by waiting that little while longer, we are sending them the message that we believe they are capable and trust in their competence.
To jump in too early, is to take all that away. Don’t get me wrong, there may be times when we do need to step in and assist a child who has got himself in a precarious position (NB: this rarely happens when a child has been allowed to move at his own pace and not pushed to move beyond what his body tells him innately he is ready for). You may need to comfort a child who becomes increasingly upset about a scenario but, by pausing that extra bit longer before doing so, you not only give yourself the opportunity to observe your child and learn his capabilities, you give him that chance to learn that about himself – his own strengths and his weaknesses and let him be okay with that.
So, yesterday, I was on a Skype call home to my husband and 3.5 year old daughter. P is quite reserved when it comes to talking on the phone or talking to people when they first greet us – even if they are familiar friends and family. People will often say hello to her and they might comment on her clothing or ask her how she is or what she’s been up to and she says nothing.
So I was not surprised that, when I asked her about her day, she did not say a word. She just looked at me and then looked at my husband expectantly. I thought about repeating the question for her but I have learned in the past week at the RIE Foundations course that our children’s hearing is very rarely the issue when it comes to them not responding to us. So I forced myself to wait.
Unfortunately, my husband has not had the benefit of being immersed in such practices this week, so he quickly jumped in to speak on her behalf. “Well, we went to the circus…” I interrupted him and said, “Oh, I asked Penny and I’m wondering if she would like to tell me about it.” He went silent and looked at her.
Penny grinned at me and began to tell me all about her trip to the circus and the clowns and the fact that one was sitting down and one was standing up. We conversed easily for the next few minutes and it really drove home how powerful that pause can be; how important it is to give them the opportunity to process and formulate a plan for a response.
I reflected: how many times had I stepped in and spoken on her behalf? She had come to expect it. She has probably come to doubt herself and maybe feels like what she has to say or can say is not good enough. We can say it better so it’s best to leave it to us to answer for her.
Often, it is our feelings of awkwardness in the silence or our impatience and own feelings of frustration when we see our children struggle that sees us jumping in early to rescue them. Children don’t have the same goal-orientated minds as us. They have fewer expectations and the sounds (or lack thereof) that they make are simply part of their emotional expression about what they are doing. Or in silence, their time to process and figure out whether they have something to say in that moment.
By pausing and pausing just that little bit longer again, we give them the opportunity to get through it themselves. If they really need help, there is normally a pretty clear indication at some point but until then, we must pause and observe, listen and learn.
My phone call with P was only one snapshot of time and I am yet to see whether simply allowing a little more time for pause will help her feel more comfortable speaking to others but I have an inkling it is going to help her confidence blossom if she is at least given the chance to have her say.
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