Our six year old son has difficulty paying attention, so we often quiz him afterward about things he was supposed to be paying attention to. He has started hemming and hawing for a long time (like a minute or more), when he doesn't know the answer. We didn't notice at first because subconsciously it makes us want to give hints or even supply the answer. We think it is a sort of defense mechanism, and the frequency with which he uses it suggests he also uses it at school, which makes us worry he is not learning as much as he should be.

So how long is it normal to hem and haw at his age? How can we differentiate between when he is honestly thinking or just stalling? What are some good strategies to address it?

  • Yeah, we get this too (slightly older), I wonder sometimes whether it's about not wanting to answer, or (in the case of asking about what happened at school) compartmentalising ("I don't want to think about school now I'm back home")...
    – Benjol
    May 7, 2013 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


Hemming and hawing can mean a number of things. Rather than try to guess why he does it, after a reasonable wait (30 seconds maybe at his age), ask him: "I notice you aren't answering. Are you still thinking or are you not sure of the answer?" Ask him to answer in full with either "I am still thinking" or "I'm not sure of the answer."

Model this behavior to him as well when he asks you question. Pause for a short period and say "I'm still thinking" or "I'm not sure of the answer." Do it with some routine until he starts to mirror it. He surely is not comfortable with hemming and hawing - it might help to give him the words he needs to move forward.

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