Letting Wait Time Happen

By Kathy Keith, TLC Occupational Therapist

Kathy plays with a toddler during class.

Kathy plays with a toddler during class.

As an OT, I have gained much wisdom from the co-treatments I get to have with my friends, the TLC speech therapists. By working as a team with the speech therapists, I have learned more about the kiddos I work with as well as myself. In one area in particular, the growth has not only been tremendously beneficial for me but also challenging.  

Let’s start with the fact that I can be a little bit of a talker. I love to encourage, give praise, give direction (and sometimes re-direction) and can do so in a highly animated way. All great, but sometimes overwhelming for the listener. I have realized that sometimes I am so busy filling quiet spaces that I am not giving the child ample time and space to process and react to what is being said. So one thing that I have had to learn and practice is the art of WAIT TIME.  

Some kiddos can process all of the information and flurry of activity that we give them more quickly, while others need some time to take in the information, process it, and then do something with it. Innately, I know this; I talk about the importance of processing time frequently. Putting it into practice can be a little harder. The bottom line is that we all benefit from having some space and time to act.

“Go get your shoes,” or “I wonder what color that is?” or “Let me see you jump!” or “ready, set…….”  The recommended wait time before encouraging a response is around five seconds.  Five seconds? That doesn’t sound like much. However, when really giving wait time to a child (or adult), it can feel like an ETERNITY of quiet when you're waiting for a response. The response you're waiting on could be following a direction, answering a question, making a comment, or making a choice.  

One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five….

What I have found is that the challenge with wait time is my own challenge, and that if I do not choose to fill in the spaces with more information or by rephrasing the direction I just gave, it allows time for the response I am looking for as well as other productive and creative things to emerge. My advice, then, is to try to remember to always count to five when waiting for a response from a child you're interacting with. Sometimes, if we give them the space to think and process, they'll surprise you with the wonderful thoughts and ideas that go through their minds ...if we give them space and quiet to let those thoughts form.