5 Things to Try Before Telling Your Child to Wait a Minute


One of my daily attempts at the balancing act.

Since our baby girl was born seven months ago, I have been astonished at the number of times I have needed to tell my two year old son to wait a minute. I know this is one of the realities of having more than one child, but it breaks my heart to not give my son my undivided attention after spending 23 months of giving him immediate parental support and love.

In response to this realization, I’ve been working on ways to be more responsive to my toddler.
Here are 5 things that are working for me:

1. Ask yourself what would happen if you stopped attending to your current task in order to respond to your child fully.

If I’m in the middle of nursing my baby, I might try one of these 10 Ways to Play With Your Toddler While Breastfeeding Your Baby so that I can give attention to both children. If I’m simply washing dishes, even though I may want to get it done now, no one will get hurt if I leave the dishes for later to go play with my son.

2. Ask genuine and thoughtful questions of your child while you attend to your task.

Often my two year old wants me to read a book to him or play a game while I am helping his sister or trying to finish a household task. If I know I only need a couple of more minutes to finish, I ask my son open ended questions while I am finishing up. For instance, if he is trying to read a book, I’ll ask him what he things the words say based on the page’s picture. This makes him feel heard, and it also typically starts a real conversation between us rather than just quickly beginning the sometimes rote activity of reading.

3. Include your child in your task.

Young children love to be helpful, so why not include them in the task at hand? There are so many ways little ones can help out around the house, and regardless of how much they actually help, it will be fun for them – and you!

4. Respond with fun.
The words “Wait a minute” often slip out before we can even really think about the effect on our children when they hear it over and over again. Surprise your child by bursting into song, making a silly face, or grabbing them for a quick bear hug. If you have to return to your task for a bit, at least your little one is smiling and feeling reminded of your love while they wait.

5. Just stop what you are doing, and attend to your child no matter what.

Responding in a fully present way to your child doesn’t necessarily have to take long. Maybe your baby gets 5 or 10 minutes of diaper-free time when you are in the middle of a diaper change, or maybe dinner cooks for two minutes too long, but what is the real harm in that?

I can’t think of many things more important than making my children feel loved and heard, and although being a caregiver or parent can sometimes feel very overwhelming, I always feel better when I know that I’ve made my child happy.

How do you handle multitasking when your children need your attention?

About The Author: Charise Rohm Nulsen

I Thought I Knew Mama ithoughtiknewma My NPN Posts

Charise Rohm Nulsen is the proud mama of a son born in June 2010 and a baby girl born in May 2012. She is also the author of I Thought I Knew Mama where she blogs about the adventures of stay at home mamahood, natural parenting, and green & healthy living.

21 Responses to 5 Things to Try Before Telling Your Child to Wait a Minute

  1. Momma Jorje  

    That “just a minute” can definitely be a knee jerk response to any request! Its fun to jump up from what you’re doing and excitedly say “Of course! I’d love to _______ with you!” And my DD lights up when I do!

  2. xena horvath

    Ha! What do you do when you are trying to go number 2??? LOL! I find myself having to tell my daughter she has to wait because I certainly can’t get up at the moment. Silly question I know, but usually she acts like she needs me to get her something just as I start doing my business. Obviously I hurry it up but jeez!

  3. OneMommy  

    Oh, I am definitely one who says, “Just a minute…” more than I should.

    I love the asking questions of them idea…. Sometimes I send mine to hunt for items in a mini scavenger hunt while I finish what I’m doing.

  4. Megan  

    This is such a great article! I am guilty of saying “I need you to wait a minute” ALL THE TIME. Thanks!

  5. Seb

    I understand your concern, but their is nothing wrong with telling your child to wait a second. Ofcourse it is important to take time with your little one. On the other hand, what are you going to do when he is older. Start over ? Therefore it is much better, to let him or her get used to it Out there nobody is going to tend to every whim. And that is a good thing.

    • Gigi

      I agree with Seb. If I jumped every time one of my children wanted something I would spend my entire day in the air. Nothing would get done in the house and I wouldn’t have a moment of ‘me’ time to gather my thoughts. Kids are demanding. They need to learn that we are there for them and that they are important to u but that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Learning patience and priorities will serve them well in life.

  6. Traditionalwife

    When it comes down to it, “constant attention” for children, and the thought that they “deserve” all of your time is a very modern idea. Since the beginning of time, until very recently, children have been raised by the “tribe” and with the help of the community of women, a mother could take care of the needs of her home without her children constantly in need of her attention. Unfortunately, with the new idea of autonomy and independence comes the loss of community care of children, and so all of the need is put on the mother. This is not natural and sometimes is proven to be unhealthy for mainly the mother. Although you may feel some guilt about telling your child to wait, I believe it teaches a youngster a critical lesson of life. Children are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves for much longer than you give them credit for, and you do deserve a “minute” to take care of either another child, your home, or even yourself. Although this post has a sweetness to it, I do believe that it is encouraging entitlement in children, and a possibly unhealthy complex in mothers to feel the need to give their children constant attention- which they will not receive in school, in work or in life. This will be a very negative surprise after the first few years of basically owning their mother’s time, and the entitlement can breed a very unnatural and unhealthy attachment to you, and other people in their lives. Just a thought from the other side of things. 🙂

    • Charise Rohm Nulsen  

      Thanks so much for bringing up another viewpoint on this! Every parent makes different choices, but for me personally, I believe that making my children feel as secure, loved, and heard as possible is the best way to equip them to deal with challenges they will face throughout life. Just because my child may face situations in life where they will feel like they are not getting attention later, does not mean I should prepare them for that now by withholding attention… especially if the only thing I need to do to help them is to ever so slightly adjust what I am doing (i.e., stop washing the dishes for a minute, crack a joke and smile at my child rather than say Wait a Minute one more time). I personally don’t think the best way to prepare children for negative experiences later is to make them experience those negative emotions at my hand now when it takes just a few seconds to change it. Most people probably agree that you don’t scare your kids to get them used to being scared later, or hurt your children because life will hurt them in various ways. There is enough negativity in our world… I try (and try is the operative word here) to do the little things that seem to go a long way for my children. Only a mama knows her boundaries, and for me, taking a minute here or there to make my child feel a little more secure does not infringe upon my personal balance. You brought up the excellent point of how children used to be raised by villages. I’m sure having so many people looking out for them helped children to feel like their needs were being met. In no way would I or could I attempt to make up for the attention a whole community could provide a child, but as I said above, I believe these little changes go a long way for my children – and a long way for me because I then feel good about the choices I am making. Thanks again for the comment and for helping me further think through this!

    • Jennifer Hoffman  

      It’s kind of funny, because we think that kids will learn to wait by being asked to wait all the time. But, teaching them the important skills of waiting, delayed gratification and self control is far more complex then just forcing them to wait all the time. One of the primary ways we do this is by teaching them how to occupy themselves as they wait. Charise’s tips here do just that! Even grown adults really struggle to just idly wait – have you ever seen the death stares a “couponer” gets in the grocery store line for taking too long! Everyone learns to wait by occupying ourselves as we do!

      Thanks for these ideas, Charise!

  7. Ashley Allman

    These are great ideas, and there’s definitely something very effective about parenting/responding through fun and humor. It is infectious – and whenever I use that tactic, I often find that it helps lift my spirits a bit too, if I’m feeling grumpy about dishes, housework or paying bills. I definitely think there is a balance – it’s good for kids to learn to wait, be independent and that mom is a person too; but it is equally important for them to feel on a daily basis how important and loved they are. If we always make our chores, personal time, emails, phone calls, etc., more of a priority than attending to our kids, they will grow up to model that same behavior and relationships can suffer as a result. I try to think about it in terms of my adult relationships. I make an effort to respond to my kids in the same way that I want my friends and spouse to respond to me when I ask for their attention.

  8. Amy  

    I am from a ‘just a minute’ family (often said in utter exasperation) and have been working to transition that default response for years. I love these simple, straight forward suggestions, Charise. Thank you. 🙂

  9. Emma

    I think it goes both ways. Your suggestions are lovely. But it’s also important to help children understand, gradually and in developmentally appropriate ways, to respect one another’s time. We do that when we don’t constantly interrupt play, what Maria Montessori called a child’s “work.” And we can begin to expect our children to learn to wait a few minutes as well. Being constantly and cheerfully available is an ideal that no real human can achieve, adult or child.

    By the way, appreciate your link to tasks kids can help with. Here’s another great piece on how welcoming a child’s help in toddlerhood makes a lifelong difference: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/07/25/how-kids-benefit-from-chores/

  10. Amy S

    I have to respectfully disagree to a certain extent. I think in some (I’m not saying ALL) situations it is completely OK and a valuable lesson/life tool to teach your child patience and that their needs can’t always be met immediately. I think that always responding to and tending to their needs, or at the very least, giving them more attention while you’re in the middle of something, has the potential (again, not always) to foster feelings of entitlement that are getting so rampant among children today, and lends itself to the whole culture of “now, now, now” with everything instant that children are bombarded with today.

  11. Martin Hyland

    GUILTY ! thanks for publishing and sharing. often utter the words without even thinking about it 🙁 a little more awareness needed, cheers, Martin.

  12. Kelly Paquet  

    I have found myself doing this more and more as my 20 months old gets older… I like all the ideas, but I am going to try to “Include your child in your task.” Not only will it teach him something, but we will accomplish it together

  13. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry  

    Lovely Charise! I am definitely guilty of saying this phrase more than I would like… going to use your practical suggestions 🙂

  14. amanda

    Could it be that the point is that most of us, when we say “Wait a minute!” aren’t connecting with our children? If we stop what we’re doing to connect, we aren’t attending to their every whim and making them feel entitled. If you couple this with gentle parenting and setting limits and using empathy, you set the stage for a healthy and secure child/adult. Yes, there are no more villages raising the children. It’s all on the Mom or Dad, usually. However, even though all pressure is on the ONE parent, the children still need that attention that they would immediately be getting from someone else in a community setting. Why not let Mom or Dad or other caregiver connect with the child right away? You can say “I need to finish this task, can you find these things/read this book/help me with dinner?..” It lets the child know you aren’t ignoring/forgetting them or that they aren’t important.

  15. beth c  

    great suggestions! i find myself saying ‘wait just a few minutes’ to my son all the time!! i understand that children are going to have to wait for things in life, but i am grateful to have some other options in my mommy toolbox!! 🙂 asking open-ended questions is a fun idea that i am going to have to do more often in general! AND responding with silly fun!! i really need more silly fun in my life! thanks so much! 🙂

  16. Kenny Hall

    Yes thanks for sharing. I especially need to pay attention to number 4 more. A lot of time I just feel boring/nagging. Answering with fun and being more enthusiastic is going to be a goal of mine!

  17. luschka  

    Fabulous post Charise an great tips! Thank you!

  18. Rebecca

    I really enjoyed reading the article and the posts with the different viewpoints. I am going to try to stop the mindless ‘wait a minutes’. Even when my little guy is going to have to wait, I can use some of these ideas to tell him so and still feel more connected (i.e. Yes! That looks like a great book to read together. As soon as I finish on the potty and wash my hands, lol.)I think I will make an exception when 30 seconds or less of my undivided attention will free me up to give my son my undivided attention afterwards. Just seems more efficient that way.

    I am sincerely curious about something. I want my son to learn to balance his needs with the needs of other people. And I want him to (eventually, gradually) realize that I, too, am a person. How do other people balance that with being responsive? When / how do you start?