when to say wait to your child

5 Times You Should Say ‘Wait’ to Your Child

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Once, when my oldest daughter was 14, a friend and I were sitting in our living room watching a game. We each had a beer. My daughter entered the room, walked over to me, and asked confidently, “Can I have a sip?” I smiled at her and shook my head no. She protested: “My friend says her dad lets her take sips of his beer. It won’t hurt anything!” “Look,” I said, “one day, when you’re 21, I’ll enjoy sharing a beer with you. But until then, you’ll just have to wait.”

No one likes waiting. In fact, in Dr. Seuss’s famous book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! he refers to waiting as “a most useless place.” Waiting is neither going full steam ahead nor is it doing an about-face. Waiting can feel pointless. It did to my daughter. Why wait? What’s the point? Well, it turns out some things are worth the wait. Here are 5 times when you should say “wait” to your child.

1. When She Asks for a Smartphone

A 2019 survey done by Common Sense Media says more than half of U.S. children had smartphones by age 11. And one in five had one by age 8. There is quite a bit of correlational evidence that points to the worrying effects of cell phone usage psychologically, emotionally, and socially in children. Perhaps getting your child a smartphone is inevitable. But the longer you can hold off, the more time your child’s brain has to develop, and the better prepared she’ll be to deal with the technology in a healthy way. When she asks for a smartphone, it’s a great time to say wait to your child.

2. When He Wants a Girlfriend

We all know those people whose kid had a girlfriend at age 3. While that’s mostly cute, quite often, kids start “dating” long before they fully understand what that means. If you’re wondering when to say wait to your child about dating, it’s likely the first time he tells you he’s in love. Rather than encouraging your child into something he’s likely not ready for, start by having a conversation. Encourage the value of relationship over romance. Reassure him that he has plenty of time and doesn’t need to rush into anything. In short, tell him to wait.

3. When She Wants to Quit

We used to have a rule for our kids: You can’t quit mid-season. Quitting is almost always the first choice a child makes when something doesn’t go her way. This is true in sports, school, friendship. But when she says she wants to quit, that’s when to say wait to your child. Choosing to wait teaches her to persevere and to work through challenges. If we can help her wait when she’s ready to quit, she’ll likely come out the other side better for the experience and better prepared to deal with more serious challenges as they come along.

4. When He Asks to Get Up From the Table

One thing I’m proud that we did as parents is prioritize family meals. However, at one point, we realized that while we ate together frequently, all of our children were rarely sitting for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Almost unconsciously, they would scarf down their food and then be up and ready for whatever was next. We realized we needed just to say wait. The point of eating together, after all, is not the eating but the being together. If all we’re accomplishing is nutrition, we’re missing nourishing relationships. When he asks to get up from the table is a great time to say wait to your child.

5. When She Assigns Blame

Whenever our children struggle, it’s natural for them to look for someone to blame. She is performing poorly in a class because the teacher is lousy. Or maybe her friends don’t want to hang out with her because they’re all jerks. Those things may be true, but when she begins to assign blame is when to say wait to your child. Why? The impulse to assign blame short circuits self-reflection and ownership of her choices. When she begins to assign blame, tell her to wait and consider what opportunities she has to make different choices.

Sound off: What other times should a parent say wait to his child?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How do you feel when I tell you to wait?”