Waiting is a skill that needs developing.
When we tell children to “Wait!” “Be patient!” “No, you can’t … not yet!” aren’t we teaching them to wait? No. What we’re really teaching is frustration. And when the child asks, “why?” we provide a neatly packaged answer that justifies how we (adults) see the world.
We like answers. In the wake of a particularly awful news story, for example, the recent killing of cartoonists at the Parisian satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, we want to help our school-age children “make sense” of the horror. Why would anyone murder a cartoonist? We provide answers.
As adults, we may have an answer to that particular question that fits our own political, religious, cultural biases. We may want very much to instill that way of thinking in our children.
Even though it may be very difficult to wait and listen to what children are saying, this is an ideal opportunity to wait for your child to talk first. When children talk or even ask about the story, try asking “how” questions.
How did (your child) hear the news? How does s/he feel about what s/he heard? How can you help her feel better (if she’s feeling bad), less confused (if she’s hearing contradictory opinions from peers or adults), more curious (if she’s wondering if it’s ok to ask questions)? What does s/he want to know?
To listen means valuing another person’s voice, even a child’s voice.
This is not a particularly new idea. The notion that education was not just about answers and completing tests was espoused by an educator from my graduate school days (way back in the last century).
Paulo Freire (1921-1997) critiques a “drive-through” education—the kind most of us experienced—that emphasizes answers instead of focusing on the process of deriving a solution.* If we value deconstruction and process, then the most valuable verbs are “wait” and “listen.”
When adults wait for a child to voice her wishes and explanations, the child can begin to value her own process of thinking.
When a child values her own experience of thinking, including the moments when she gets stuck, then she’ll keep wanting to think and figure things out. She may even question the so-called answers…and, wait for it...invent something wholly new!
*Paulo Freire is cited in Julianne P. Wurm, Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers (St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2005), p. 85.