By Christine Marchant

“Waiting for it” is a very important skill for the child to achieve. It’s a developmental skill that comes with the child growing and opening up to their environment and expectations. For those children who are developmentally not able to “wait for it”, we teach this skill slowly and in little steps, just like we teach everything else.

Telling a child to “wait a second!” or “wait a minute!” doesn’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I like to teach this skill through games.

I pick their favourite game and make “waiting for it” the goal. It doesn’t matter what the game is, as long as it’s their favourite. First, I explain the “rules” to the child. “When it’s our turn, we will count to five before we play.” Waiting will be difficult for the child at first, so start with the lowest number. I like to count out loud. I tap my fingers on the surface of the table or area that the activity is being held. If the child doesn’t understand this, and is still reaching for the activity, I usually place 5 pieces of paper or cards with the numbers 1-5 on it. I flip each card over and say the number. This shows the child time is passing by. The child could still be in the concrete stage and cannot grasp the abstract idea of time passing. I use A-B-C-D-E for the child that is obsessed with the alphabet. If numbers don’t mean anything to the child, use cats, cars, shapes, etc. Anything that catches the child’s attention so they are looking at the cards and counting out the five seconds. We want the attention on the time passing, and they are doing something while waiting. 

This is important! Do not make the child “sit quietly” for this target. The target goal is not playing the game or sitting still, it is to recognize that we are waiting for five seconds and this is what it feels like. To show the passing of time, I like to start off with the actual ‘visual’ and ‘audio’ but wean them off of it as they grow and develop. I go from counting out loud, to counting silently. As they develop, I extend the five seconds slowly to as far as 30. Eventually they can watch the timer and by the end of this goal, they know that they are able to transfer this skill to wait patiently to all the other areas.

One of my children a few years ago couldn’t hold still even for five seconds. So, I had him jog in one place for the count of five. Then we moved it to holding the table edge, jumping up and down counting to five. Then it was standing at the table, marching, then sitting on his bum, stamping his feet, etc. Eventually, he was sitting on his chair, rapping out the numbers. It took several MONTHS, but at the six month mark, he was able to wait a full TWO minutes! Quietly with his hands on his lap! At the end of the six months, I would put the timer on for two minutes and he would sit patiently while I “wrote” my notes or “read” my book. I would say, “Here’s the challenge: I’m going to read my book for two minutes and you will sit quietly and patiently.”

This was a very important skill for everyone to learn. There’s a fine line between waiting for your needs to be met, and passively not advocating for your needs. When the child is tiny and learning, we meet their needs immediately. As they grow and mature, we must teach them how to know when to wait and when to advocate for themselves. It is our job to teach and support the child as he is learning to advocate for his needs while learning to wait for his needs to be met.

Another example of teaching this skill is when I had a little boy who was non-verbal and had a global delay. He couldn’t count because he was non-verbal and had absolutely no clue of what we were saying when we introduced him to numbers and letters. This little Bobby was always given whatever he wanted immediately. Little Bobby wasn’t given the skills to manage his frustration or disappointment when he was denied anything he wanted. His behaviour was violent! I worked with him for 9 months and he was finally able to understand “wait for it”. The method I described earlier, did NOT work for him! This little Bobby needed a whole different approach. I’ll share with you how I managed to give him the skill of “wait for it “ in another post.

There are SO many different approaches and styles of teaching. No one way is the correct way and the only way. The most wonderful thing about this job as a child development facilitator is that everyone is allowed to be their own authentic self and interact in their own individual style.