Positive Parenting

The Power of a 5-Second Pause: Why ADHD Brains Need a Beat

Does your preschooler show signs of ADHD? Try this: Pause to let your child process her thoughts, convey her feelings, and describe her problems; it will lead to a more positive relationship, and improve her cognitive development as well.

children thrive when patient parents let them process their thoughts and describe their problems

As preschoolers’ brains develop, they need more processing time than adults do. When asked a question, they need time to think about what the question means, process an answer to it, form words to communicate their answer, and verbalize it. When parents or teachers fill the silence and follow up with a second question, we force our kids to start the process all over again from the beginning.

University of Florida educator Mary Budd Rowe, Ph.D., called this “wait time” in the classroom. She found that when teachers purposefully employed wait time, students gave higher-quality responses, and their self-confidence increased because they were able to spend time recalling the information and articulating a good answer. In essence, consciously allowing for wait time, or pausing, sets us up for positive interactions with our kids.

The Magic in the Pause

The act of pausing, repeating back what we hear in a positive way, and letting go of any agenda is known as reflecting. By actively choosing to do this, we encourage our kids to not just recall information but to be aware of what they learned — what was interesting, how they feel about it, and what they can do to build on the experience. Nothing stops a conversation with our kids quicker than jumping in with our point of view before we are asked. When we pause, we’re telling our kids that we’re open to hearing anything else they have to say.

The simple technique of pausing makes our job as parents easier. Because when we can take the time to enact a four-beat pause (Mississippi style), we:

  • don’t need to have all the answers
  • don’t have to be perfect
  • don’t jump to conclusions
  • don’t answer the question we think our kids are asking
  • answer only the question he or she is asking
  • give our preschooler time to gather his or her thoughts and verbalize them.

Implementing a pause seems unrealistic at first. After all, four beats is a long time to wait for a response, especially in a world where we’re used to rushing around trying to fit everything in. We should strive to build the four-beat pause into our daily interactions with our kids. The payoff — higher self-esteem and the time to think and absorb what is being asked of them, so they can use the right words to give us insight into what they’re thinking—is priceless. A little practice goes a long way:

[Self-Test: Could your child have ADHD?]

  • Ask a question of your child, making eye contact, and pause.
  • Wait for an answer, and slowly count to four, Mississippi style.
  • Respond.

One of the greatest benefits of the pause is that it gives a child a chance to process new, confusing, or difficult information, and fully understand it. When we pause, we also give ourselves a chance to process the situation, and formulate thoughtful responses.

The pause is the tool, but it’s how we use the tool that makes all the difference. We need to be conscious of our body language and what we say when we interact. Being intentional with the pause brings positive outcomes for our kids and ourselves.

What we choose to say and how we say it after we pause are both important. Sometimes we can pause and say nothing. We should use body language, like leaning in to our preschoolers and looking into their eyes. This is a sign of interest and our kids feel it. It says, “You’re important.” When we want to make a strong point, getting on the child’s level and looking into his eyes is a powerful tool. In my experience, preschoolers tend to lean right into you, stand up taller, hold their head up high, and speak in a measured, excited voice. By giving them this pausing time, we give them a voice. Here are a few ways you can use pauses:

Your child says: “My friend made fun of my picture.”
You say: “That makes you feel…”
Pause and listen for his response.
You say: “What can we do?”

Your child says: “I can’t do it.”
You say: “You sound frustrated.”
Pause and listen for response.
You say: “How can I help?”

When we pause and don’t rush in, we help our kids learn how to be resilient and independent, we foster grit, and teach them to handle conflict. When you use the power of the pause consistently, you set the stage for a respectful, empathetic, and caring relationship.

[S is for Self-Regulation: Lessons in ADHD Emotional Control from “Sesame Street”]


From Preschool Clues: Raising Smart, Inspired, and Engaged Kids in a Screen-Filled World, by ANGELA C. SANTOMERO, M.A. Copyright © 2018 by Santo Studios LLC. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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