The Power of the Pause

If you are at all like me, most hours of your day zoom by so fast that you can’t help but feel like there is no way to put on the brakes. Most of the time our busy schedules come from a good place: the kids wanted to play sports, volunteering is the right thing to do, my friend really needs my help today, or hosting a weekly game night which is a necessary part of our social life. Even when we fill our time with good things, it can get overwhelming, even suffocating.

Research on mindfulness shows that our brains are not designed to operate in a high-stress mode for long periods of time (https://mindfulambition.net/slow-down/). If this is true for adults, it is most certainly true for children whose brains are far behind ours in terms of development.

As a brain expert, there is much we can learn from Dan Seigel about how children’s brains work and their unique set of needs. In one of his books, The Whole-Brain Child, Seigel discusses the ‘power of the pause’. This pause is not a call to slow down your day, but rather to slow down your communication and instant expectations. Seigel suggests that when you ask a child to complete a task or answer a question, give them a three to five second pause before they respond. Now, three to five seconds does not seem long on paper, but when you think about staying silent for that long amidst a hectically busy day, it can feel like an eternity, so let me explain the reason why. Children’s brains are not able to process responses as quickly as our adult brains seem to need them to. It takes their neuropathways longer to decide how they should tell the child’s body to respond, act, or behave. These seconds give them time to think about what we have said and respond in a helpful way, not a stress-induced melt down.


Just like children need us to pause so they can comprehend what we are asking of them, we as adults need to pause during our cram-packed days to make the most of the little moments and remain calm and regulated for the ones who rely on us.

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