10 Reasons to Give Kids 10 Seconds

In a recent faculty meeting, our Director of Information Technology explained some upgrades to the school’s hardware and software. “One of the benefits of this series of upgrades,” she said, “will be faster load times on the pages you use most, such as the page for entering grades and comments.” One of my colleagues shot her hand up and shared how eagerly she was anticipating these technological enhancements “because some of the load times on these pages are devastatingly slow.” My curiosity piqued as she continued: “I’m sometimes having to wait 3 or 4 seconds. That’s unacceptable.” Wow. If 4 seconds is “devastatingly slow,” I shudder to think how this colleague might tolerate, for example, baking a batch of cookies.

I like fast Internet speeds just as much as the next person. And yes, baking is different from online surfing. Heck, 4 seconds is Bugatti-quality if we’re talking about acceleration from 0 to 60mph. Time is a constant, until you approach the speed of light, but the perception of speed is a function of the task. So the question is: How impatient have we become when we find a few seconds of waiting unacceptable?

Cultivating patience is something we all need to do, especially if we work with children. Here are 10 different reasons to give kids 10 seconds. (None involves the Internet. Patient or not, I think we can all agree that faster is better when it comes to page load times. Just don’t take it too hard when your browser takes a deep breath.)

(1)    So you can better understand. Kids don’t always say what they mean. (“I’m bored.” “Math is stupid.” “The ref was an idiot.”) When you give yourself 10 seconds to consider how the words that come out of a child’s mouth may differ from their underlying meaning (“I’m sad.” “I don’t understand.” “I’m disappointed we lost.”) then you’ll be in a better position to provide empathy.

(2)    So you don’t say something you regret. When you wait before you open your mouth—even if you’re not actually counting to ten—then you are less likely to yell, swear or exaggerate.

(3)    So young people feel listened to. Even when you’re feeling calm and confident that you understand what a youngster is thinking and feeling, it can feel good to them when you occasionally pause before responding. It demonstrates you care without your having to say so.

(4)    So others have a chance to respond. It’s easy to start believing that you have the best advice until you give other people—both children and adults—a chance to say something. Not only is that behavior deferential, it can also be enlightening.

(5)    So that kids have time to process. All young people need time to think about what you’ve said or asked, especially those with a developmental disability such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Whenever any child is marching to the beat of a different drummer, it’s your job to slow down. Rather than repeat the question or decide for others, wait for them to formulate a response.

(6)    So that you sound smarter. The first thing that comes to your mind may have merit, but the second and third things may be even better. It’s fine to say, “Hmm. Let me think about that for a second” and actually give yourself ten. Words of wisdom or more likely after you let a little time tick by.

(7)    So that you’re sure the young person is done talking. Adults have a pesky habit of believing they know what a youngster is about to say. By occasionally waiting after one sentence concludes, we may be rewarded by a fresh sentence or a whole new idea. And we can be certain that we haven’t interrupted.

(8)    So that play becomes more creative. Outside the confines of a conversation (the focus of reasons 1-7 above), we have other opportunities to give kids space. Play is one domain where adults are constantly interrupting young people. We give directions, advice and scripts when what we should be doing—in a free play situation—is playing along. Try asking a question, such as, “What happens next?” rather than being prescriptive, such as, “That should go here.”

(9)    So that youngsters don’t feel “multitasked.” When adults slow down the pace of a verbal or nonverbal interaction with a child or adolescent, it usually means setting aside the mobile devices, the paperwork and the TV remote. Do what you can to provide your full attention, rather than dividing your attention. Quality suffers the more tasks you perform simultaneously.

(10)  So that you develop a little more tolerance for waiting. Young people’s brains are still developing. Expect them to be impulsive, reckless, selfish, preoccupied, distractible and, sometimes, downright slow. Give them time to grow and learn without interrupting and rushing them.

You’ve made it this far into The Weekender, so now it’s time to share a surprising piece of data: You don’t have an accurate perception of what 10 seconds feels like in an interaction with a young person. So count it out now, for practice. Stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself a complicated question. Now wait a full 10 seconds for the reply. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand, six one thousand, seven one thousand, eight one thousand, nine one thousand, ten one thousand. Now you’ll be able to do it better in a real-life situation.

It may seem counterintuitive, but an upgrade to your interpersonal interactions entails slowing down, not speeding things up.

Dr. Christopher Thurber serves on the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy, a coeducational boarding high school. He is the father of two boys and author of the best-selling Summer Camp Handbook. In 2007, Chris co-founded Expert Online Training , with a vision to become the world leader in online education for youth development professionals. Additional resources for camps, schools and families can be found on CampSpirit.com . To book workshops or contact Chris directly, e-mail chris@campspirit.com .