From the moment a new baby is born, parents do everything they can to protect and help their children. A new-born is fragile, precious and needs to be looked after. However, there comes a time when the instinct to jump in and fix everything actually slows a child’s progress.
There are two main areas where children need to be given a little time: sleep and patience. There are two broad camps of prevailing thought on these matters – I am going to propose a middle-way instead.
First, what are the two schools of thought? For sleep the division is between the self-soothers and the sensitive reactors. The self-soothing camp believes a child should be left alone, to self-sooth, even if this means a child screaming its head off. At the opposite extreme, parents jump straight in trying to comfort a child at the first sign of a gurgle.
Our solution? “The Pause”. Children sleep in much shorter sleep cycles than adults, and between each phase of sleep, it is not unusual for a child to gain awareness almost to the point of being awake. At this point, a child may well make various natural noises. But left to his own devices, will then start towards the next deep sleep cycle. The risk here, is of jumping in to check on a baby, and actually waking the child completely. The point of the pause, is to pause a parent’s protective instincts, and observe the child. Is the child just mid-cycle, or does he or she actually need something?
The Pause also ensures a parent does not go all the way to the extreme of just leaving a child when he or she is clearly in distress. A child needs to feel loved and supported and the risk with self-soothing, is that a child will not learn to feel safe – but rather will feel abandoned. The Pause allows a parent to assess if their child actually needs support, and can then provide it as required.
This practice also follows into all other areas as a child grows up. If two adults are having a conversation when one of their children comes up, the usual reaction is to either stay “stop” or to immediately give the child attention. Again the middle way works here by saying “wait”. If said in a short, sharp manner, a child will usually stop in its tracks and wait. If it really is pressing, the child will not be put off by a simple “wait”. Yet, over time, the length of time a child is used to waiting will increase – even if at first it must be kept short. A child has to learn that waiting gets result. Finishing your verbal paragraph is the perfect length to start with, but once a child understands that “wait” does mean you will give them attention once you are ready, the length of time can be increase successfully. In her excellent book “How to Talk so Kids will Listen”, Adele Faber writes of the advantages of a short direct message. Children quickly lose interest in long explanations – so a short “wait” is much more effective than a more laborious reply.
Children have the ability to improve their patience skills, and as adults we have a responsibility to help them experience it. A child that is content with waiting, is the start of a child who can develop internal resources to cope with frustration.
Philippe Fraser, Director of the Bilingual Nurseries group www.bilingualnurseries.com
Mars Montessori Bilingual Nursery accepts children aged 1 to 4 years old in Angel, Islington
Les Trois Oursons accepts children aged 10 months to 4 years old in Paddington.