Learning to Wait: Teaching Children Patience

 One of the most valuable lessons in life

We spend a lot of our lives waiting: Waiting in the school line, waiting in a doctor’s surgery, waiting for dinnertime, bedtime, the kettle to boil……….
However, waiting is not a skill that comes naturally, it is a skill that is learnt through developing patience.  We live in a society of instant gratification – instant online shopping, social media, on-demand TV, the ability to get things NOW!!  However, the need to wait exists in reality, and patience is still a virtue (the ability to wait without getting upset is valuable).

If I describe patience as a muscle…we all know that a muscle needs constant workout or it will wither, sag, lose tone (some of us may be nodding here more than others).  It requires constant use and mastery even. Well, patience is the muscle needed to be able to gain the strength to wait.
For children to wait can cause frustration; for parents it can seem an endless wait.  Whining begins, maybe a full blown meltdown, the parental stress increases.  All parents will have experience of this!!

So, how can we address this with our children or children that we care for, teach, nurse etc.?
We need to teach children to manage the delay of gratification, to develop self-control and to understand the reasons for this.

This requires training. It is always advisable with children that we are prepared; ‘prevention is better than cure’ after all.  Have toys to hand that will occupy your child (of any age).  Avoid ‘quick fixes’ such as technology, tablets and phones; as these solutions do not train your child to wait, of course we know there is research about the adverse impact on child development – but my point here is that the child will not learn to entertain themselves.

I will explain more:
When we are waiting, if we do not fill our time effectively, we become bored.  Therefore, when a child needs to wait, they need to have developed the life-skills to fill this time, they need to be able to distract themselves.  It is scientifically proven that children’s ability to wait improves dramatically when they learn skills for distraction.  How about teaching a child to sing a song whilst they wait or tell jokes to another?

They need to have had practice to learn to wait.  This practice is best had with a parent or teacher when there is time for waiting to be learnt in a fun and educational way.  Take time to sit with your child and give them a friendly time of learning to wait.  Children need to be taught, and the child will get quality time with the adult whilst learning the art of patience, then develop this more and more to build their strength in their new found skill.

Affirm that you know how patient the child is, and how good they are at waiting.  We all respond better to praise than criticism; so make sure that the child knows how well they have done, and that they have learnt to develop their strength of patience.

Controlled crying - learning to wait2Some adults may need to slow down response times, so that a child must wait, increasing the time by a few more seconds or minutes as they grow older and gain more understanding of time.  If a child asks for something or cries for something, then this may not mean that they need something immediately.  It is important to discern that you are helping to teach your child a skill that they will hugely benefit from in life.  When a child wants to show you their toy, and wants you to come now; when a child wants their bike out of the shed, but you have dinner on the stove or you are helping another child; then there is value in explaining and engaging the child to look at what you are doing, and explain calmly that you are busy, but that you have their task in mind, and you will be there in a few minutes.

Many parents and professionals have explored the approach of ‘controlled crying’ with young babies and toddlers (which may or may not have been your cup of tea), but the concept is of teaching the child to wait and in doing so, to develop patience.  Why not continue to do this throughout the early and latter years of parenting?  This does not end once the child is weaned, it continues into teenage years and into adulthood.

When shopping, children can often raise their expectations and demand something extra from the shop.  How about writing a list of items and then sticking to this?  Let the child take control of the list and read it to you.  Explain why lists are written prior to venturing to the shops; prior to leaving home explain that you won’t be buying anything additional to the list.  Having an understanding of the reasons behind decisions enlightens the child, prior to embarking on the journey.

There are simply some things that will overwhelm children, as they need to develop in their emotional tolerance to situations.  It is best to approach these things with a calm and prepared approach.  If a child is known to meltdown to certain environments, then prepare them through teaching them.  After all, one day the child will be a teenager and then an adult, and they will need to be able to regulate their behaviour or it will lead to socially unacceptable behaviours.

Finally, remember to lead by example, as a child learns from actions far better than from words alone…

Extra tips:

  • Have toys to hand that are sensory stimulating and will occupy your child  ̴ Vary these.
  • Consider games that are teaching your child to distract themselves   ̴ Tailor this to your child.
  • Whilst waiting, use your environment to create games, such as reading signs, finding their way, map reading etc.  ̴ These are educational and time-fillers!
  • Think about ways that you could communicate more positively, when teaching patience   ̴ and waiting.
  • Make it fun, calm and simple   ̴ There is no need to overcomplicate this for yourselves or the child.

“This advice is given to help you get closer relationships and more understanding of one another, and for healthy child development”.    

Author – Sarah Muller – Managing Practitioner

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