RDI Program and the Power of Pausing

by | Sep 12, 2014 | RDI® Core Concepts

The Power of the Pause

Mitali pauses en route to the door.

Her child notices she’s stopped at the shoe stand.

She slowly takes out her shoes and pauses as she looks down and begins putting each one on slowly.

Nothing is said.

Her 4 year-old takes the cue and takes out his sandals.

She turns to look at his feet; her gaze moves to his face and they share a smile – she pauses again to let him form a memory of competence.

She’s ready to break out into a dance – this is a BIG moment – this is the first time she has paused and he took the opportunity to consider, to process, to think and to respond!

Mark Twain said it so well:

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

A pause may refer to a rest, hesitation or temporary stop.

You may interrupt action or speech briefly.

As a parent, a pause provides you with an opportunity to choose your response or you can act on impulse.

Impulse says, “tell him what to do” or “he has not moved – I’ll point in the direction of his sandals” or “I’ll give him the remote so he stops screaming.”

It feels good in the moment that you have taken an action but it is not mindful.

You can use the power of the pause to change from emotional reactions to thoughtful responses.

Whether you’re reacting to provocations or trigger words, remind yourself that you can pause to choose your best response.

A pause in the right place at the right time gives YOU:

  • time to breath
  • time to consider what it is you’re going to do or say next
  • time to observe, receive and digest the feedback you are getting from your child

A pause in the right place at the right time gives YOUR CHILD:

  • time to breathe
  • time to consider or to let the images or ideas you’ve given them ‘flower’ in their minds
  • time to process, understand or summarize what’s been said
  • time to prepare for what may be coming next

Consider this, you can:

  • Pause before a particular important point to increase tension and add emphasis.  Pausing at irregular points can also increase tension.
  • Pause after important points in order to let what you said or did, sink in.
  • Combine pauses with dramatic action, such as uncovering something, pointing to something important, etc.
  • Use non-verbal signals to emphasize the pause. A simple way of doing this is to freeze the body, perhaps with an expectant expression on your face.

When you pause in the middle of a sentence, you trigger needs for completion, thus increasing tension. Matching body language with the pause creates alignment and hence increases trust. Mixing body language and speech creates mixed messages and the opposite effect.

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak; it’s knowing when to pause.”

Jack Benny

In RDI®, the purpose of the pause is for the connection to be made, not to “get” the child to gesture or to imitate your action.

You convey to your child that you believe in their ability to respond and that you are there to support and not pressure them.

You provide spaces for the child to think about communication prior to responding. You wait for studying responses.

Sharmila found that a pause and a smile helped her connect with her 5 year-old as she stood behind him stirring the cake batter with a whisk.

He turned back and in a heart-stopping moment, looked at her and smiled!

An everyday activity like baking provides opportunities for thoughtful pausing:

“Okay – the butter’s in…”  “okay, that part is done…” or even “two ingredients down, four to go” (allowing a pause and holding the sense of tension until child thinks “okay, then what comes next” and then the child goes on to announce, e.g. “Next comes sugar“).

“I wonder what we should add next?” or “We’ve put in the margarine, something is missing” pause (child needs to think a little).

“I’ve got the margarine” -pause (more thought needed for getting another ingredient).

If you pause, ‘umm’ or sigh, or use a pause and gesture of looking for something, with a “what have I forgotten?!” expression (child needs even more thought: “what’s wrong?”).

Pausing is respectful and conveys conviction that your child possesses the ability to think for himself.

Using deliberation, purposeful pausing and going slow gives both parent and child time to think and contribute.

Pause and count to ten.

You may find your child begins to respond!

The Power of Slowing Down

“It’s fine to pause and use gestures – but how do you do it with a child who is constantly on the move, impulsive and will not wait long enough to notice?”

A mother asked herself this as she thought about her 3-year old “escape artist” who was just not available for engagement.

This was before RDI® helped the family understand why and how they could change to working at their child’s level in a way that made it easier for him to process and respond.

They began with just being with their child – no demands – and using largely non-verbal communication: Gestures, facial expressions, sounds; sometimes, a word used only to amplify a message.

In addition to all of this they focus on spotlighting and consciously creating innumerable opportunities that a routine day offered as a back drop for him to process, think and problem solve.

It was hard work slowing down; sending clear messages about what was acceptable and what was not and waiting long enough for their child to process and respond.

Dr. Gutstein explains how you can engage with your child in simple versions of daily activities:

You make sure that you are adding simple variations but spotlighting the constancy and not the change.

So you can be washing windows together in unison and start out by only washing in the downward direction.

Then you can change to only washing in an upward direction. Then you can change to only washing in a circular direction.

In all three conditions you are emphasizing the similarity of washing together and not spotlighting the changes.

You are showing the child how he can perceive patterns amidst ongoing minor changes and alterations.

True RDI® joint moments should not be forced, or “made to happen.”

We may frame the activity, and scaffold for the child’s success, but the rest is about the mindfulness that happens in the child’s brain.

You can be cooking, doing experiments, arts & crafts, or decorating the house on holidays together.

You can adapt these to suit your child’s abilities, without worrying too much about coming up with a billion different ideas.

Sometimes just adding a little variety and more challenge to things you have done in the past is best way to work on experience sharing with your child and to building their competence.

Keeping it slow and simple does help…Try it out!



  1. David Wu Wei

    I love the margic power of pause so much. A good pause will give you a big surprise.Instead of the order “say hello!say hello!”, I will talk my son” Boy, you are good manner”. He will think a short time and then:”Hi! Good morning teacher!”

  2. Pat Voytko


    just catching up on reading the blogs and articles. Love this one! I call it “patterns and pauses” when I teach it but I love “power of the pause” and am going to start using that too.


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