The Importance of Wait Time in the Development of Self-Regulation

As adults, in any given day, we are expected to demonstrate the capacity for wait time (e.g. waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in traffic, waiting for our food at restaurants, etc.) The ability to exercise self -control and self-regulation through wait time is an important life skill that is shown to first develop in childhood. The capacity for wait time is shown to be closely tied to attention span and memory capacity which evolve as the brain develops with age. Wait time is connected with turn-taking and conversational reciprocity that are relevant in our earliest social experiences with peers and adults.

As parents, the importance of wait time in developing self-regulation can be modeled and reinforced for our children regularly, implicitly and explicitly. A lack of wait time is said to frequently contribute to non-preferred behaviors observed in the home setting which are commonly demonstrated by children (e.g. tantrums, crying, grabbing, hitting, etc.) Research has shown that children who exercise better self-control and self-regulation through wait time are said to be better equipped for meeting academic and social demands presented in the educational setting.

In modeling and reinforcing wait-time, there are several parent strategies that can be utilized in the home setting. One strategy includes starting with opportunities for short wait times and expanding to lengthier wait times as the child ages (e.g. providing a slight pause/delay before handing a child a highly preferred snack.) It is suggested that using specific references to time can assist in promoting wait time (e.g. using temporal concepts-before/after “x” rather than “later.”) Use of first/then language with commands is shown to promote wait time through the presentation of manageable expectations (e.g. first sit, then toy.) Providing multiple routine opportunities to exercise wait time at home helps ensure the concept is familiar to children in other environments. Conversationally, it is said that as adults, delaying verbal responses and limited negative physical reactions (e.g. shifts in tone/body language/facial expressions) also reinforces and models wait time and self-control to children in healthy ways.