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Young People … Our Greatest Resource

The “Forever” Pause

Here’s a tip for child service professionals who find themselves faced with trying to get a difficult youngster to talk to them.


Here’s a great strategy to use when you’re engaged in an activity with a youngster that requires taking turns. I’ve used it many times with youngsters who tend to be overly reticent. I simply pause when it’s my turn, then I pose a question or make a comment or observation. I don’t complete my turn until I get a response.

The best of counseling and therapy happens in the pauses anyway, those reflective moments of insight and understanding.

I remember visiting with a young man as we played a game of pool. (When given the option to sit and talk or “do something” and talk, “do something” always wins.) He got a little more caught up in the game than in the therapy.

Rather than redirect him verbally, I used the game to my advantage. At my turn, I started to take a shot, then pulled the stick back. I paused and reflected on what we had been discussing.  With a confused and questioning look on my face (not at all difficult for me), I asked him something:


John, I just now was wondering what you might have been thinking when your stepmom said that to you. Do you think she was angry at you, or was she actually angry at your father?


Then I waited (The “Forever” Pause). The easiest way for John to keep the game going was to answer my question. Oh, there was pressure for him to respond, but it didn’t seem contrived or full of manipulation. It was more spontaneous, and it “fit” in the moment. On balance, this approach has been a very effective strategy for encouraging youngster to interact. It can be used with most any game or activity that requires players to take turns.

By the way, did you notice the “Splitting the Universe” in my question to John? (We covered that in last month’s Digest; it’s a great tool.) I gave him a menu of only two items, and went from there. Had I asked, “What do you believe she was thinking, John?” he likely would have said, “I don’t know.”


(For 59 other interventions and problem-solving approaches with young people, check out Dr. Sutton’s book, 60 Ways to Reach a Difficult and Defiant Child. Just a couple of these ideas can enhance greatly your work and success with difficult and defiant youngsters. The book is immediately downloadable in pdf format. For more no-obligation information and options for immediate download, CLICK HERE.)


James Sutton, Psychologist

The Defiance Doctor

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, Parents | , , , , , , | Leave a comment