Wow, it is good to be back in front of my computer! It’s been a bit busy lately–good busy, but busy! Spring break gave me a taste for how soon summer is going to be upon us, so let me go ahead and give a plug for my NEXT blog–structuring your summer so your kids and you can survive and even enjoy it!
For several months now, this post has been percolating in my brain as I see other parents (and myself, I admit it) falling into a very bad habit . . .
You are at a playdate with your child/children. Your friend and her child have also shown up, and you are having your first adult conversation of the week. Just stop. Picture it. Can you feel your shoulders relaxing, just thinking of how nice that feeling is? A CONVERSATION. You know, back and forth, give and take about an INTERESTING TOPIC, like how your youngest is potty trained for day-time, but hasn’t mastered the night-time yet, birth stories, whether you’re going back to work or not after your youngest gets into school. The topic is irrelevant. It’s all good, because it’s with another ADULT.
Suddenly, your 4 year old, runs up and mid-your-friend’s-sentence shouts, “Mom, I’m thirsty!”
You now have two choices: a. get up, go find his water bottle and give him his drink immediately, so you can get back to your conversation ASAP, or b. stop the conversation, look at your child, and say, “Johnny, you are interrupting. You will need to wait a minute.”
Which one is the option that is, ultimately, in the best interest of peace, harmony, and the future of your child? Is it a big deal that we allow our children to interrupt for any whim and allow their demands to control our schedules, conversations, and our very lives? Is it OK to “make them wait?”
Before I go on, let me give you another scenario.
You are standing at a booth at a home improvement center, speaking with a sales person. Your 3-year old, who has been gorging on candy from every booth you’ve passed thus far, is standing next to you frenetically yanking on your clothes to get your attention. Do you ignore him, hold up your finger in the pre-agreed-upon signal to “wait” or do you think that he may be choking on a piece of candy and needs your help?
Scenario 2 happened to me with my oldest child when he was 3. SCARY moments until I was able to dislodge the candy using the Heimlich maneuver on him! So before I go into why you should “make them wait,” let me clarify that there are always exceptions, and part of parenting is looking at each individual instance and deciding the BEST way to handle it. If your child who is potty training interrupts because he needs to “go pee,” then that is a good time to allow an interruption. It goes without saying that danger and serious injury qualify as OK times to be interrupted as well.
HOWEVER, if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit the the VAST majority of interruptions from our children, do not fall into the category of emergencies–except in their minds, of course.
Three reasons we should make them wait:
1. Waiting is a LIFE SKILL–What other scenario in life are they EVER going to be in that does not include waiting?
Standing in the bathroom line at preschool, waiting in the school lunch line or for their turn at the swing at recess. Waiting to open their gifts on Christmas morning. Sitting in a doctor’s/dentist’s WAITING room, waiting in line at every. single. amusement park in the world. Waiting ’til they turn 16 to get their driver’s license then waiting for that light to turn green. Waiting at work until it’s their turn for lunch break, waiting for payday, waiting for that promotion, waiting in the cash register line at the grocery store (it doesn’t just happen at Walmart!), waiting while that baby lives inside her body for 9 months before getting to see him in person. . .
Accurate or not, I found this interesting statement here–“The average person throughout their lifetime spends five years waiting in lines and queues where roughly six months of that is waiting at traffic lights.”
Have you every seen a person have a nasty meltdown in a doctor’s office, or in the grocery store line? That’s a person who never learned the life skill of waiting.
Wait, wait, wait. It’s what we do. It’s what we need to prepare our children to do. It’s part of being a good parent.
2. Ultimately, making them wait SAVES TIME & ENERGY, and makes for more PEACE and HARMONY
I know that in the moment, when we allow those interruptions, it feels like the simplest thing to do. Sometimes, we can take care of whatever the interruption involves without even breaking the conversation! But what are we communicating and what are we creating when we allow those interruptions to go unchallenged? We communicate that everybody else’s life is subservient to their wants. They are more important than anyone else, and their demands take precedence over anyone else’s needs or comfort. And this communication, then creates a “brat.” Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a more diplomatic word. After you have allowed a few of those interruptions, when you do ask them to wait, they look at you like you have lost. your. mind. And they will not meekly submit to your request. They will simply reiterate their “need,” because, after all, what could be more important than meeting their demand?
On the flip side, imagine that you have trained your child to wait. You haven’t allowed unreasonable interruptions, you’ve come up with a signal that allows the child to communicate that he needs you without actually having to interrupt (when I’m consistent, ours put their hand on my arm and leave it their until I acknowledge them–my older boys are a lot better at this than my younger ones, a sure sign that I’ve let it slide a little with them!). Imagine the peace and harmony that comes with getting to talk to one person at a time, rather than trying to keep the conversational ball rolling while holding a conversation with Johnny too. Conversation with others becomes more enjoyable (finishing a thought is a wonderful thing!), you have fewer frustrations throughout your day if you don’t have to constantly stop to fulfill a demand on the spot, and (a side benefit that we are discovering) dinner table conversation as a family actually becomes enjoyable when they wait their turn to speak! Another benefit is a decrease in whining–one of the major frustrations for parents! When a child can’t complain at the very moment he wants to, when he is made to wait before he can verbalize his issue, he has a moment to step back from the emotion of the moment and actually think things through. Instead of a whiny, “I’m hungry!” you tend to get a question, “Mom, when is lunch?” Wow, what a difference that makes in a day!
3. Waiting is a Gospel practice
Just read Hebrews 11–all the Old Testament people that lived their life in faith, waiting for the promise of God. They didn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise in this life, which means they waited a long time. In Romans 8, and really, throughout his writings, Paul talks about waiting for our coming redemption. If we are teaching true Gospel to our children, we are teaching them that the Gospel DOES fix all things, but not NOW. Justification and forgiveness of sins happens now, but sanctification is a process, and sin-free living is something we are waiting for. Perfection and freedom from life’s difficulties don’t happen now, they are simply a side-benefit to living with God in eternity, but we have to wait for them in faith and confident hope. If you have not raised your child with the expectation of waiting, they will have a larger struggle understanding why they have to wait for God to bring justice, health, prosperity, success, etc. They will expect it as their due in this life, NOW.
So here are 5 phrases that we can use with our children to help them develop the life skill of waiting! Get in front of the mirror and practice saying these phrases, and make it your goal to use at least one of these phrases in the next 24 hours! If you have never used these with them, be prepared for shock and push-back, but keep their best interest in mind, and (knowing they will survive) stand your ground–in the most loving, gracious way possible, of course!
- “You are interrupting”–a pretty obvious one, but if you have spoken with your child ahead of time, this phrase can become a simple attention-getting warning.
- “Just a minute”–a good one to use with your preschooler who is calling you to wipe his little butt. He will survive sitting on that toilet while you finish that blog post thought!
- “Not right now”–When you don’t want to say a straight-up “no” but it’s not a “yes” yet either.
- “We will see”–you don’t owe your child an immediate commitment for every request they make. I find that I say “no” more if I don’t have a chance to think it through a little, so this phrase has actually worked in my kids’ favor!
- “I don’t know”–once again, children like to get a split-second decision and commitment/promise from you, but they can survive waiting to hear the decision until after you have thought it through, talked to your spouse, etc.
One final bonus tip: Pre-arrange a body/hand signal with your children, and you won’t always even have to use one of those phrases. My signal with my boys is a finger pointing upward. It tells them that I’m aware they want to talk to me, but that they are interrupting in an unacceptable manner. If they have done the right thing by putting their hand on my arm rather than interrupting, I try to either make eye-contact and smile at them or place my hand on their shoulder to let them know that I am aware they are waiting on me and that I will talk with them in “just a minute.”
Do you have any signals or phrases that you use with your children to help them learn the important life-skill of waiting?