Pause: this is a good news article: you can achieve so much as a parent by just being a bit lazier; being a little slower to react and waiting a while before solving problems or doing things for your kids.
Why? Because necessity is the mother of invention - your child will learn to come up with their own answers and this is one of the greatest gifts that you can give them. After all, the role of any parent is to help their baby slowly transition into adulthood and equip them with the skills needed to be independent human beings. There are other aspects to parenthood too, of course.
1. Don't be a Parent in shining armour
I don't rush in to help my 4 year old son to open a packet, close a tricky lid or fix a broken lego structure. I watch and wait to see if he is able to do it for himself: if he can, he's very happy. If he can't, I'll try a few verbal suggestions first or I'll demonstrate in slow motion as I open my own packet so that he can copy me. Usually, this does the trick and he solves his own problem. If he's getting upset or frustrated, I'll ask if he wants my help and do what he asks. I am investing both of our time in making him more independent - he might be able to do it without any intervention at all next time if I take the trouble to teach him how. It is so tempting to just do it for them, isn't it? You're quicker and less likely to make a mess, but you can always practice the pause when you have time to deal with the inevitable spill!
2. The first rule of fight club...
I don't rush in to help my son resolve a dispute with a friend (he's now 4, so if your kid is a lot younger, you'll need to work up to this). I sit back and listen to what solutions they come up with to their dispute. It's not always what I would have devised, but kids can be very inventive. Give it a try; you might be amazed! You can always step in if you don't like what is happening. If the friends are struggling, I ask questions like "what do you think should happen next?", "why do you think X is upset?" and maybe asking X "what would make you feel better?". Getting these kids to talk and listen to each other is helping them to build a better friendship. They're also more likely to be satisfied with the outcome if they've had a hand in bringing it about.
3. Just eat it!
I don't rush in at mealtimes. I've witnessed rapid-fire "You don't like it? You're finished? You're ready for dessert?" type questioning from parents in response to their kid not diving in to their meal straight away. What self-respecting kid is going to pass up going straight to dessert?! Or having something that they prefer for dinner? Or at very least, the attention that they're getting? Give yourself a break! Start eating your own meal and just assume that your kid will eat theirs. I have a lot more to say about fussy eaters :) If my son needs something once I've started eating, such as a spoon because he's struggling to eat sauce with a knife and fork, or more milk because he's finished what he had already: guess what? I pause! If I think that he can resolve the issue for himself, he is allowed to briefly get down from the table to fetch whatever it is. If, such as in the case of the milk (we buy gallon bottles!), I think that he's going to struggle on his own I finish my mouthful or my segment of the conversation and then I go. I am teaching him a little patience as well as the notion that my meal, or what I have to say is also important. You are not your kid(s) servant!
4. Hang on a minute...
Actually, I never rush in to fulfill requests because what I am doing at the time is also important. Of course I'll help, but maybe in a few minutes (unless it really is urgent). What sort of feedback is a kid who's parent drops everything instantly getting? - That they (the kid) is the most important member of the family. ALL members of the family matter - even Mum and Dad! Oh, and I remain completely inactive until I hear "please"
I pause before labeling feelings. When my son was 2, I would say "I can see you're upset / angry / frustrated" to help him to identify why he was crying and then we'd talk through what the solution was. Now, I pause. I want to see what he thinks is the matter and I listen. This is particularly important to me after watching an excellent BBC documentary (with an unfortunate title) "No more boys and girls. Can our kids go gender free?" The main takeaway message that I took from it as a boy's mother is that boys find it very difficult to differentiate between negative emotions and tend to express them all as anger. I know in my heart that my son is going to internalise the messages of what it means to be a man from the rest of the world, so I at least want to create a safe space for him at home where he can release some of his emotions. Of course, I also pause to allow him time to come up with his own solutions.
6. "Teacher eyes"
If I can catch his eye or reach to tap him on the shoulder , I'll even pause before disciplining my son! I give him "teacher eyes" - you know, a kind of glare or frown! This will usually get him to stop what he's doing. If more action is required, I'll silently beckon him over and ask "what do you think I'm about to say?" or something similar. More often than not, he'll tell me what he was doing wrong and, if prompted and necessary what punishment he is going to receive (more on this in a subsequent post).
7. Pretend you're asleep
If I hear my son awake early in the morning, I pause. I have been doing this for a long time as part of my "it's not morning" strategy. When he was a baby, the pause was until 7am or as close to that as I could get away with without him getting very upset. There was a tricky stage around potty training (see the blog post linked above), but generally I've stretched this pause out over time. As a toddler, he was in a baby-proofed space but now at the age of 4 he is trusted to go anywhere indoors. My "pause" can now last an hour or more! There are two massive benefits to this strategy. Firstly, my husband and I get to lie in on a weekend - 8.45am would be an average get up time. Secondly, my son is amazingly good at imaginative play! He can make fun with anything. On holidays, we only pack a few of his own small toys and then he plays with free things in hotels - coffee stirrers, paper cups and plates, the crayons he gets in restaurants, the threads from the sewing kit, notepads, pillows, empty toiletry bottles etc. He has never once complained that there is nothing to do!
8. That's entertainment
I pause on airplane, train and car journeys. I usually bring colouring things, a book or two, an audiobook and a TV show for longer journeys. The pause is before bringing out any of this entertainment. In the pause, my son loves to look out of a car or train window. We chat about what we see, play I spy, yes/no guessing games or come up with crazy "what if...?" scenarios. The result is that he has a great attention span, a vivid imagination and can tolerate boredom.
9. If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium
My main and final pause is in the avoidance of overscheduling. My son is 4. He does not need to already be having piano lessons, soccer practice, ballet and instruction in Mandarin. Plus, as an introvert he would not enjoy all of these things being crammed into his life! There is room for maybe one of these things if you're so inclined at this age but it has to be for fun. A slower pace of life with plenty of time outdoors will teach your kids patience, how to value their own company, their family's company and develop their own creativity. I am sure that these things will become part of my son's life as he gets older and actually asks to do them, but for now I will pause.