All things move in cycles, don’t they? In my practice as a mother I currently find myself muttering little reminders under my breath when I’ve run out of puff … and currently I am muttering “Waiting is a gift” – a phrase I wrote a post about last year – which I am re-posting here as much as reminder for myself as for others. My thoughts are all about timing at the moment. I’m a bit tired. Very, actually. So I am reminding myself that there is a time for everything, and the gift is the process we move through before we reach the end of the experience. This post is about encouraging children to wait for the right time to experience things, but for me it is a reminder to pause, and to breathe, to not get impatient and to enjoy the moment and the processes we move through. Sometimes we need little reminders 🙂
When I came to the Gold Coast to teach, I was very fortunate to have a number of mentors who guided me in my teaching and my ability to work with parents. These people also opened my eyes to the practical rather than theoretical applications of early childhood training. It was so exciting to find a new way of actually using all the ideas that I’d learned about at uni, and experimented with in my first 2 tentative years of teaching.
I think the single greatest concept presented to me in this time was one particular phrase, which has stuck in my mind ever since, and completely influenced the way I have since behaved as a parent with my own children. It was a phrase offered as a summary of an activity presented in a parenting class at the school, run by Nansi, one of my mentors. In answer to a question about appropriate times of life to introduce adult and abstract topics and behaviours, her reply was: “Waiting is a gift.”
When is the right time for children to wear adult fashions? Waiting is a gift
When is the right time to begin teaching children academic concepts? Waiting is a gift
How do I work with my young child’s impulses? Waiting is a gift
It seemed like the answer for everything and it totally transformed the way I approached my teaching. At the time I was working with 4 – 6 year olds, and there were quite a few children in the class who were used to having their own way … NOW! I began applying my new motto in my classroom, and stopped responding to every request, every question, and every demand from the children.
Sounds rude doesn’t it? I didn’t do it rudely though, I would just wait for a while before responding to questions, pause for a moment before I would attend to a child, finish my current task before turning my attention to the child tugging on my clothes. I would not even respond immediately if a child had tripped over, dropped something or accidentally hurt someone else (emergencies and serious accidents not included – you should see me move then!) Definitely I would not respond straight away to tale-telling and complaining about others. It was challenging and confusing for the children at first but after a couple of weeks the children would begin answering their own questions … or asking a friend. They began to either wait quietly for me to come to them, or try to solve their own problem in their own creative ways.
There were of course many children of temperaments not suited to this treatment – those who were naturally impulsive, spontaneous, excitable, demanding, or not used to being ‘ignored’. These children were about to embark on a long journey exploring the ‘practice of patience’ with their teacher – and it ended up being one that bonded us very closely together over the two years I was their teacher.
When our baby son arrived, I continued to wait. I noticed that when I did rush over to him, his reaction to his accident or perceived need would be worse. Sometimes he’d check out my reaction before he’d decided what his ought to be. If I looked worried and was rushing over he knew there was something to be worried about, and his eyes would instantly fill with tears and his face would crumple – even if he’d just stubbed his toe or slipped over. So by not responding straight away to his cries or his falls, he developed a relationship of trust with his dad and I: of course we are here for you, we know when you need us and we will keep you safe, will not let you become distressed, hurt or afraid, but at the same time it is important for you to learn about the world yourself. This is not to say we ignored him, but as I described earlier, I would pause before responding and not rush to console him. The pause would give us both a moment to consider what had happened and what needed to happen next.
In this way my three children have become prepared to take a risk in their play. Oh, they each have different tolerance levels for sure – but they know I have soothing hugs available if soothing hugs are necessary – however hugs aren’t always necessary! A few scratches, a trip over, a bump, these are everyday things. Even a tumble down a climbing frame, or fight with a sibling can be met with a pause, a breath and an observation first: “Uh oh, you fell over!” – “That was a bit of bad luck!” – “You’ve given yourself a huge bump there, what should we do about it?” – “Those words don’t sound kind. I wonder how it feels to be spoken to like that?”
The impulse to fix things for our children is still strong, but I’ve also tried to cultivate the impulse to saunter over slowly and quietly to my fallen/stuck/hurt children. This is something I’ve had to do very consciously at playgroups and the park with other parents – trying not to feel guilty because other parents are already leaping towards my fallen child, and perhaps concerned about my seemingly non-response. A slow, calm approach gives us both time to work out how worried we really need to be, to gather our thoughts and make a decision about what, if anything, needs to be done. It’s what ambulance officers do when they arrive at a scene: look around, take stock of the situation, get their equipment ready, walk slowly and speak softly … its reassuring and opens a space to be open to the right decisions.
Over the years, the phrase ‘Waiting is a gift’ has popped into my head when in the supermarket I see my own children walk past the sweets and lollies without asking for something (But instead longingly suggesting that it would be nice to have a special treat today!!). We are all aware of what they want, but understand that NOW is not the time. I saw it when they stopped asking me constantly if they could watch a dvd on holidays (we watch one once a week) and found other things do to; and when I heard my son tell his sister: “Mummy will come in a moment, she just wants to finish what she’s doing first” and “I could help you instead!”, and “after you have had lunch, then you can have a cookie”. I have by no means cured my children of impatience though!! But I am so pleased when these little golden moments present themselves. My children have my presence, and they know I’m aware of their needs.
My son wanted a play sword when he was four-and-a-half, but his father and I decided to make this a rite of passage for him. We had no play weapons at all in our home, and sticks had sufficed for swords in his play so far. We told him that when he was five years old he could be knighted and earn his sword: knights have to learn how to use swords properly after all! Ooh it was a long wait! While he waited to turn five, every now and then he would ask about knights and we would talk about what they would do: good deeds, go on quests, help others, and fight dragons. We talked about how knights behaved: with courteous ‘golden’ manners, beautiful speech and caring for their appearance and their possessions (you can’t use a rusty sword!). He turned five, his Dad made him a wooden sword, we painted it silver, talked about how it could be used, and then knighted him with it. I have no issues about sword play now, because in the waiting he learned that the privilege of having a sword comes with responsible use. At all times when he uses his sword he must remember how knights behave. His knighthood has been withdrawn a couple of times, but never without the opportunity for it to be bestowed once more! In this case, the gift was worth waiting for.
More than that though, the whole idea of waiting implies that there is a time for everything. We are used, as a society, to having our needs met NOW. Why wait, when you can have it faster / cheaper / brighter / better … NOW! Advertising has really zoned in on what grabs children’s attention, then suggesting that there is something that they NEED to have, and so, due to the nature of young children, their needs become physical desires. They MUST have this! We’ve chosen to avoid this as much as possible by not owning a tv, and only frequenting shopping centres when we have something specific to look for.
Western children are so generally used to having things, that it is often nothing to accept the basics of life without a moment of gratitude or consideration – or to throw things away without any thought except that it will be replaced. Western children are also used to having ready-made entertainment. This has had its impact on childhood in so many ways!
There is a growing movement among early childhood circles to get children playing outside once more – to switch off devices, get connected with their environment and make their own fun, grow their own food, be active in play – to delay the need for ‘being entertained’. At the same time our children are also experiencing pressure in schools to perform academically from an early age – even when there is a vast body of research to say that children learn better when they are developmentally ready. Just because children CAN learn earlier doesn’t mean they should. Waiting is a gift, and in the case of education, waiting to learn abstract concepts such as numeracy and literacy could also be the difference in whether our children grow to be adults who are intelligent-but-anxious or relaxed creative thinkers.
Childhood is a time that is too precious to rush away by responding to our children’s desires for now / better / faster / older / more … they are only children for at the most a tenth of their life! And these are the years that we are the major focus in their lives. Why hand these years over to adulthood?
I think it is time to re-instate rites of passage in our communities. There is a distinct difference between an infant and a child, a child and a teen, a teen and a young adult – each phase of life comes with its challenges, which should be experienced, acknowledged and celebrated – when they are ready for it. Our son’s knighting was a simple way to acknowledge his transition, and a beautiful way for him to feel good about having to wait, about showing us what he had learned and feeling a sense of achievement for his own effort. He had earned something.that he had yearned for. Little moments like this should not be wasted! The things we gain for ourselves through time and patience and our own effort are not to be taken for granted.
Waiting is a gift not to be wasted.