Hang on...I’m thinking!

The importance of giving children time to reflect
Reading time: 3 minutes


The alarm clock rings and a new day is underway! One of the first sentences that children hear their mother and father say often is: come on, it's late!!

Time is an important factor for everyone, but grown-ups often forget that children need to do things at their own pace.

Time is a variable phenomenon of great importance. It affects our individual experience and lives from all points of view. It defines the quality of life and the well-being of our children.

So, if time is so important, why do we tend to undervalue it?

Sometimes, when children feel under pressure because their parents are nagging them for being a slowcoach, or a daydreamer, or because they haven’t done what they are supposed to do, they answer back in a cross voice: hang on... I’m thinking!! This response is nothing short of marvellous. It is fraught with meaning and highly eloquent. Basically, the child is telling the adult: “I need time”. Time to understand, time to work out what to do, time to listen and time for myself.


Come on, let's go! It's late!! What effect can these words have on a child?

When parents anxiously complain about their children being slow even in performing the simplest actions, one cannot help but think about “Alice in Wonderland” and her wonderful world inhabited by the Mad Hatter and the fabulous White Rabbit with a big pocketwatch in his waistcoat who is so obsessed with the time that he incessantly mutters: Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late! It's late!!!

Have you ever wondered what words like these mean to a child? It's late! It's late for what? As if whatever the child happens to be doing at that particular point in time were not the least bit important.

As children perform an action, they must build awareness of small phrases and the consequences that follow on from an action. They must have time to think, to reason, to be amazed and to understand the effects of what they are doing. It might seem quite simple for an adult, but for a child it is probably something unfamiliar and complex that requires to adopt new cognitive, motor and emotional strategies. So, how can we possibly call it “simple”?

When a child says “I’m thinking”, what they really mean is “I need more time!”

What a grown-up can do to help children speed up is to provide them with an explanation for all the various phases that make up day-to-day routine and activities. Helping children to find out about time implies listening to them and respecting their needs, getting them to understand that there is a time for everything. It is very useful for children to know exactly what is expected of them beforehand and to be walked through the occasion before it takes place.


Time is precious. What exactly do we mean by this phrase?

It is crucial to recognise the importance of free time, and this means not cramming a child’s day with occupations or activities. “Empty” time is not wasted time and sometimes we all need to stare at the ceiling or just get lost in our thoughts. All too often, grown-ups try to organise their children's day down to the last minute, but actually kids need to be allowed time to get bored and to think about what they want to do and about they have just done. This helps them to understand themselves and the world around them, to process and consolidate what they have learnt, to perceive what they have, what they don’t have and what they want. “Unfilled” time enables children to discover the joy of discovery, resourcefulness and wonderment. If we press them into doing one activity after another, arranging for games, laboratories, and the such like, we run the risk of stripping it all of value. Children need to be given time to process and tell us about what they do. Relating their experiences takes a great deal of time and adults must learn to listen hard while respecting the child's own pace.

Sometimes an image or a word can bring to mind ideas or insights and the child might stop to think before they start sharing again. At this stage, a grown-up can help their child to understand what is required of them not by asking questions to find out what is happening, but rather to prompt the child to reflect and recognise the import of the words that mummy and daddy have just said.

To cite the words of the famous writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau “the greatest, the most important, the most useful rule of education? It is not to gain time but to lose it.”

In a society which is constantly pressed for time, let’s leave children enough of it for conversing, for the unforeseen and for surprises!

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