My 6 years old boy finds it very difficult to wait. When I am talking to others or am busy in some work, he would come to me excitedly to show something or demanding for something. And then would keep interrupting till I don’t do what he wants me to do. This becomes exasperating for me.
“Wait” is something that doesn’t automatically get added to a child’s dictionary. They find it difficult to understand for they live in “Here and Now” and at this stage they don’t fully understand something as abstract as TIME. Whenever a child comes to their caretaker, the first thing they are looking for is ATTENTION. And giving them (even if it is for couple of seconds) helps us to drive across our point in a more efficient manner. So step one for us is to GIVE THE ATTENTION. This is like joining their world before ushering them into our world.
There is a certain posture that makes the attention giving more effective for the child. Be at the level of the child either by bending, sitting or kneeling down. This makes us bodily more approachable to the child. Imagine a giant almost double our height towering over us and speaking down upon!! The next part is to shift our body to face the child and make a direct eye contact. Hold his gaze for few seconds. Start by calling out his name (calling out name instantly clicks with the child) – Yes Anuj?
He says-Mamma, look at my drawing. See what I made.
Now you want to wrap up the current thing before starting on this. As you are going to do something that is contrary to the child’s expectations, a deeper engagement is important here (especially when we are setting it up as a new behavior modification technique). While he speaks, we keep looking at him and make some kind of physical contact that we are comfortable with like hand on the back or shoulders.
We speak in an assuring manner (saying in a hurried or dismissive tone is a sure shot put off and would bounce right at the gate of the child’s ears. We may be apprehensive about the time that deeper level of engagement may take, however if we start timing the effort versus results, the efforts would actually keep coming down in the deeper connect)- Yes Anuj, I understand you are excited about your drawing and want to show me (say it the way you see it happening in your front). I need to finish talking to this Aunty. Please give me 10 minutes of time (look at your watch and make a mental note of getting back to him in that much of time).
You can add some more drama by telling him, please put an alarm for 10 minutes.
And then confidently remove the physical contact, and look back at the person you are talking to. Initially it may take a few trials but slowly it would set in.
Later you could work with the child to have some keywords when he needs your attention like, “Just say Excuse me and wait for me to respond. And I shall also do the same when you are into an important activity”!! By respecting our time, the child learns self respect from our modeling and is ready to give more allowances for the same to us.You may actually see him using this approach with his friends as well.
Initially while setting this practice with the child, more due diligence needs to be given to the posturing. Slowly with consistency and predictability that the child derives from our actions would mean that just turning towards him while speaking would be enough to drive our point across.
If he doesn’t look so sure. We again phrase the same thing a little differently-I know this is important for you (and genuinely believe that it is. Listening to smaller things that we may think is inconsequential paves way for deeper topics that the child may come up later). I would love to see this. I need 10 minutes of time. (And then add some drama for kids love drama), see it is 5pm right now, when the clock will be 5:10pm, I will come and speak to you.
Remember two things are important here, consistency of approach each time it happens (young children need lots of repetition) and our will to keep the commitment of promised time. Be sure what we promise for (through mental or calendar entries), take some more time if you know you may not be able to adhere to. For instance when it is going to be the promised 10 minutes and we know we would take longer, telling him proactively helps-Anuj I think I will need 15 more minutes. I will be there with you at 5:25pm. Could you please update the alarm clock. Or Anuj what you are sharing is very important and I want to give full attention to it. Let’s talk about it once we reach home. I shall remind you if you forget. Do you think saying ‘Drawing’ will help you to recollect?
Slowly this will build up an assurance into him, mamma will get back to me. Further this ingrains a delayed gratification and increased threshold of wait into him. Active attention and verbal rewards are great tool to connect with a child and give direction to the child’s behavior. The key is to keep the eye contact and some kind of physical touch all throughout.
Finally, each child and parent come with their own genetic and nurtured temperament. We may need to go through various trials and tweaks before settling down on a few techniques that connects with us the best. Love to hear, how does your parenting script flow here?