“Sorry, you’ll have to wait for that,” we say to our children, a million times a day- according to them. To be honest, it can feel like a million times a day to us too! One thing we love about engaging with younger children is their enthusiasm for life, but it can make waiting very difficult. So, how do we teach our children to be patient? We know it’s a skill they will need in life, and learning it can make everything at home feel a little easier, too, right? We have some ideas for you, as a parent, to help support an impatient child in building this skill.
#1 Before you can teach children patience, first you need to welcome impatience into your little one's life
First, it’s helpful to understand that patience fits into a bigger skill set of emotional regulation. 'Emotional regulation' is what it sounds like. It’s our ability to manage big emotions and stay in control of our feelings and bodies. As our brains and bodies grow, we gain brain structures and more skills for managing these big feelings. When we are little, we lack the skills and brain structures to calm ourselves and understand concepts that help us wait. When you break it down, waiting takes many skills; identifying feelings, understanding time and adult perspectives, problem-solving, and emotional regulation.
As children build skills for emotional regulation, they gain the ability to have patience and wait for things in a calm manner. Until then, kids may have big feelings about waiting. It may sound counter-intuitive, but in order to teach a toddler patience, we must first welcome impatient feelings. Our emotional courage colllection and social emotional learning books provide the tools and stories to help children embrace all their feelings and can help foster a ways to handle them.
#2 Use empathy & a calm presence to help your little one feel understood
When we provide empathy to our children when they are having trouble being patient, it can help our child co-regulate at the moment. This means that we can use our own calm presence, and help our children better understand their own feelings and calm down. You may try saying something like, “You really want to play that game with me now, but I have to finish up the dishes; it can be so hard to wait.” In this scenario, the importance of boundaries is key. You need to set a boundary to give your young child a chance to practice waiting while providing them with empathy to help them feel understood.
#3 Be sure to model patience in your life to help children understand that even adults struggle with feelings sometimes
Another way to help kids learn patience skills is to model patience. You may try saying in front of your child, “Oh dear! I’ve been waiting for the mail to come ALL day. I’m so excited for my package to arrive; it can be so hard to wait. Hmm… what should I do to help myself wait?” Modeling your own feelings, and the inner dialogue you have with yourself when you have to wait for something can demonstrate what you do to cope with those feelings.
Modeling your own struggle with waiting can help normalize these feelings. Children love when we can show them that we struggle with big feelings too.
#4 Practicing taking turns & problem solving when playing games, fun ways for children to learn the important skill of patience
Children also learn about patience through play and games. Children will naturally engage in play and learning to learn new skills on their own, but caregivers can join in on the fun too! If your child struggles with patience, try selecting some games or activities your kids enjoy and practice turn-taking and problem solving when conflicts emerge. These skills will help children learn new ways to be patient. It’s way better to learn skills while having fun, right?
At Slumberkins we know that children will definitely get many chances in life to practice waiting. As their brains and bodies grow, most children will learn the skills necessary to regulate their emotions while they wait. I guess what we are saying is, if your kid isn't showing patient behavior yet, try some of the ideas above, but most of all... be patient. When it comes to raising confident kids, teaching patience, using positive language, is a great way to start.