Two Minutes, Please!

TulipTreeElm House Blog4 Comments

By Bee

Hello Families!

It has been a busy couple of weeks with school starting, and we wanted to take some time to share one of our most valuable tools here at Elm House:

*Two Minutes*

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, “Ah, yes…two minutes!” Some of you are probably a little puzzled, “….what???” And a couple of you may be leaning closer to the monitor and reading furiously, “YES, BEE!!! PLEASE TELL ME WHY MY CHILD KEEPS SAYING TWO MINUTES TO ME!!!!!”

Allow me to explain. 

I will start by telling you that “two minutes” is not equivalent to 120 seconds, it is a general tool we use to offer autonomy to the children. Here are some examples of how we use two minutes at Elm House (and Tulip Tree as well!)

First, it can act as a warning that a transition is approaching.

“In two minutes we will be going into the bathroom to wash hands. I wanted to let you know so you have time to finish your work.”

As adults we often have a running list of 8,000 things in our head that we are planning on accomplishing in the next 12.5 minutes. It can be hard to remember to let the little people in our life know what is coming up next, however it pays great dividends. You may have noticed that the more you need to rush through a process, the longer it seems to take your child. This is no coincidence. Children need longer periods of time to mentally and emotionally process what a transition means for them, and how to best ready themselves both internally and externally. When children aren’t given that time they can become very resistant and/or emotional. Giving your child a two minute warning gives them that crucial processing time that they need.

Two minutes is a compromise.

“Are you ready to come down from that tree? No, you’re not? Okay! You have been up there a long time and I noticed that many other children are waiting for a turn. You could come down now, or in two minutes. You would like to come down in two minutes??? Sure! In two minutes you will come down from the tree.”

This is probably how we use two minutes most often here at Elm House. When a child doesn’t want to transition, get their diaper changed, sit to eat, wash their hands, share a space, or participate in whatever needs to happen next we offer them this compromise. They can choose to do the activity now, or in two minutes. As adults we hold power over the children in our lives. If needed we can pick them up and force them to do things they aren’t ready to do, like change a bm diaper, or get into the car to leave. While it is sometimes necessary, it is almost always VERY UNCOMFORTABLE to engage with children this way. We try to avoid this by all means necessary, and make our interactions as consensual as possible. The wonderful thing about children is that they are pretty flexible people. When we let them know whats coming next, and we are willing to compromise with them, they will almost always meet us right back in that space. Children feel confident and excited when they are given the opportunity to have a measure of control over what is happening. Children also become more skilled at managing their time, bodies, and emotions during activities/transitions the more often we are able to afford them this type of autonomy.

Sometimes at the end of the two minutes (which may be 45 seconds or 5 minutes depending on your need as an adult) your child may still be feeling resistant. At this point we gently remind them of our previous agreement. “You weren’t ready to get in the car earlier. I asked if you wanted to go now or in two minutes. You said two minutes. Now it has been two minutes and it is time to go. Thank you for understanding!” That last bit of resistance pops up less often the more accustomed to two minutes your child becomes. 


Two minutes is a promise.

“You really want to go to the backyard now. I hear you. You thought that was coming next, and then things changed. We saw this truck and decided to watch it. We will be going back to the yard in two minutes. Thank you for being so patient and waiting. I know that waiting is hard.”

Sometimes we find that we are tied up with something, and the children around us have a need they want us to fill. This need is important to them and it feels critical that we acknowledge it. Two minutes is a great tool for that. It lets the children know that we have heard their need, and we will meet it, just not in this exact second. We also use two minutes in this context when needing to check in with another adult while a child is present.

“I hear you saying my name and I feel you pulling on my shirt. I’m checking in with a parent really quickly about how this afternoon went. I will be ready to give you all my attention in two minutes. You can wait by my body, or I can come find you when I’m done. Thank you for being patient.”

Two minutes is a way to manage relationships.

This is actually a development that comes from the children themselves, and that has popped up in every cohort at Elm House since it began. As the year progresses, and the children become more accustomed to the concept of two minutes, they use it as a personal tool to manage time, space, and any conflict that may arise.

*T reaches for an item being used by S*

S: “No! Mine!!! I’m using this!”

T: “I want that!!! My turn!”

S: “No!”

T: “Two minutes?”

S: “Yeah.”

The children use two minutes as a token they can offer one another. It is a respectful way to insist they have some strong feelings about something without snatching it away. Two minutes is used in the same way by the children to share spaces.

T: “I want in there.”

S: “No, Im crowded.”

T: “How about two minutes?”

S: “Okay.”

The wonderful thing about two minutes is that over time the children become more comfortable with all its facets, including its rejection. I watched this interaction play out earlier this week between two older children who had learned about the concept of two minutes last school year.

Z: “Hey, I want that instrument.”

F: “No. Its mine. I’m making a song.”

Z: “Maybe when you’re done.”

F: “No. I’m not done.”

Z: “In two minutes???”

F: “NO!”

Z shrugged their shoulders and calmly walked away.

Two minutes gave that child the opportunity to say, “I want that, but I respect you enough not to take it from you. Did you hear that I wanted it, because I really really really do! You aren’t going to give it to me. Okay. I understand. That’s your choice.”

What an incredible interaction for two toddlers to have with one another. This is why we are such big fans of two minutes at Elm House, and we invite you to use it in your home as well. Now when you hear your children asking for two minutes, you will know they are asking you to acknowledge their personhood, and the fact that they may have had thoughts, ideas, or plans that were different from yours. Please share any questions, comments, wonderings or examples in the section below!


Please be mindful of the fact that two minutes is crucial to how things operate here, and we want the children to have faith in the system. If you mean, “No.” say “No.” Please don’t offer two minutes if you’re just hoping that your child will forget (spoiler alert: they wont!) 

4 Comments on “Two Minutes, Please!”

  1. This a so informative for parents & really, anyone, Bee! Great realistic day to day examples. You rock lady.

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