I was working with a family recently and witnessed a father ask his son a question and then not give him time enough to answer. The boy was playing a game with his brother and may not have fully heard his father talking to him. The child’s mother observed this and pointed it out. The father seemed to pause, restated the question and then resumed waiting for their son to answer him. This got me to thinking about how children benefit from being asked questions to get their opinions, explanations, feelings and/or ideas. Children sometimes need more time to answer your questions than you might think is needed or reasonable.
Your child may have multiple things going on in his head, heart and/or body when you are attempting to interact with him. Depending on the temperament of your child, what your child was engaged in and the quality of your attachment, your child may not readily answer you. At any given time, your child might be experiencing the following feelings: pressured, rushed, afraid, untrusting (of how you might respond), caught on the spot, distracted, guilty, defensive, sick, overwhelmed, apathetic, confused, tired, hungry, frustrated, angry, confused, stressed OR calm, playful, energetic, welcoming, affectionate, happy, silly, excited, etc.
As caregivers, it is helpful to take your child’s immediate reality into consideration when engaging with him. Think about yourself and how you feel when you are asked questions. Children improve when the adults/caregiver uses various strategies to interact with them such as active listening (getting on the child’s eye level, being in the same area, listening and repeating back what you heard your child say) and being mindful of your tone of voice and word choice. Ask yourself if you are speaking in a manner you want your child to talk to you or anyone else?
Children gain in so many ways when you slow down and take the time to wait for their response. 1) Your child will feel heard, valued and included. 2) Your child will practice thinking for himself and be more in tune with his inner life. 3) Your child will learn how to connect his actions with + or – consequences. 4) Your child will feel a sense of safety and security in your relationship. And in the long run, 5) your child will feel better about himself and his ability to communicate and get along with others in various settings.
I challenge you to take more time to actively listen to your child and see what happens. You will be amazed by the things you will learn about your child. You will also be creating more positive memories as a family.