Can three seconds change your child’s life – or at the very least, their behaviour? Some researchers believe so. The concept of ‘think time’ or ‘wait time’ gives kids the chance to stop, think about what they’ll say next and respond in more positive ways.
Way back before many of you were even been born (1972 to be precise), teacher Mary Budd Rowe coined the term “wait time.” Now don’t confuse this educational term with “time out.” Giving a child wait time isn’t a punishment and it isn’t something that we need to do in response to ‘bad behaviours’. Instead, it’s the idea that giving children a few seconds to think about what comes next may help them to form thoughtful answers to questions, or possibly act more co-operatively.
So, why three seconds?
According to Rowe, teachers typically wait less than a second and a half between asking a question and having the students respond. When you up the time between question and response to a whopping three seconds, teachers tend to get better responses, less “I don’t know’s” and answers that are overall more correct.
What does this have to do with you, your child and parenting?
After all, isn’t this an educational concept that only teachers use in schools? Yes, and no. Teachers spend their days with your children, meaning that they’re on the inside when it comes to what works best. This doesn’t only include how to help kids learn lessons or easy ways to educate. It also includes getting children to behave better (or at least in more positive ways). Using wait or think time is a trick that you can use at home too!
The idea makes perfect sense – adding a few extra seconds on allows your child the chance to process what’s going on before launching into a tirade.
Even though you aren’t asking your child to answer a reading comprehension question or explain algebra concepts, you can still use the three-second rule in everyday communication. Let’s say you ask your child to stop playing and pick up her toys before eating lunch. Her one-second response is a rather brash, “Noooooooo!!!!!” Now try a few seconds of wait time. She may still protest, but not on a full-scale tantrum level. It’s more likely that she’ll have time to think about your request, process why she needs to pick up her toys and give you a better answer.
Not only will the extra wait time up the likelihood that your child will think out answers to your questions (instead of rushing to respond), but it may actually help to improve thinking skills and confidence.
When teachers waited longer, about three seconds, some really good things happened:
- The students gave more correct answers
- They were less likely to say “I don’t know” or nothing at all
- They gave more thoughtful answers
- They asked more questions themselves
- Their confidence increased
- Their attention and cooperation improved because the kids felt listened to
Keep in mind, you’re giving your child a chance to think, and not deliberately counting to three before you force her to speak. If she’s not ready to voice her answer at the magical number of three, give her the time she needs. This ‘wait time’ isn’t just for problem behaviors or a tactic to try out when things get difficult. Offering up some think time is something that you can use anytime, for any type of question. When your 6-year-old walks in the door after school and you say, “What did you do today?”, have her wait three seconds and think about what she wants to say. This stops the, “I don’t know” or, “Stuff” response.