Waiting isn't fun for anyone. I used to think I was good at waiting. Then I entered the grocery store, the DMV, went to a restaurant, an amusement park, and drove my car around town. Like I said, waiting isn't fun for anyone.
If patience doesn't come naturally to adults, it certainly doesn't come naturally to preschoolers. Think of just some of the factors working against your child:
- Our culture of instant gratification
- Their own short attention spans
- Natural human selfishness
- Electronic devices
Since patience doesn't come naturally to any of us, it must be learned through consistent instruction. Here are four ways to help your preschooler learn how to wait.
1. Use Technology Wisely
When our children get antsy, it's easy to turn to the iPad for the solution. It's an easy decision that can have a lot of bad consequences. Here's how one article puts it.
More often than not, adults are handing their tablets and cell phones to young children to keep them entertained during waiting times. While this can be helpful in the moment, it may backfire in the long run. First, experts strongly advise against children under age 2 using devices with screens since there is some evidence it adversely impacts development and no evidence that it advances development. Second, children who are constantly entertained by technology are missing out on opportunities to learn how to entertain themselves, develop communication skills, build sustained focus, and expand their interests.
2. Develop Waiting Activities
A child's struggle with patience is sometimes predictable. For instance, if your preschooler sits with you during a church service every Sunday, you can anticipate that she will struggle to sit still.
When these predictable situations arise, be prepared with fun activities. For instance, you can develop a "Church Bag" that is only used at services. Fill it with special books or favorite coloring pages so that your preschooler begins anticipating these times rather than dreading them.
If your activity involves a more active environment, consider some of the following from this Bright Horizons post.
- Play guessing games. "Twenty Questions" or "I Spy" can entertain for a long time. Both games help children develop and practice thinking and reasoning skills.
- Go on an alphabet hunt. Try to find all of the letters in the alphabet in the room, on a menu, on signs, wherever. Do this together or have a competition.
- Play favorites. Take turns naming categories like snacks, beverages, playground equipment, books, ice cream flavors, etc. and share your favorites. You can also ask each other questions like, "If you had to pick between chocolate and vanilla, which ice cream flavor would you pick?" Get creative and silly with your questions, such as, "If you had to turn into a farm animal, which animal would you be?"
- Explore categories further by choosing one and listing all the ideas you can think of together that fit; categories like girl's or boy's names, fruits, or animals work well.
- Practice physical development by pretending you are mirror images of each other. One person does the movement and the other person has to quickly imitate it. You can do this standing up or with smaller hand and face movements if you're seated.
3. Practice Patience
Teach your children what patience feels like by engaging in activities that don't produce immediate results: games like puzzles or blocks, planting and tending a garden, etc.
Furthermore, don't always respond immediately to their requests. If they ask you for a snack, don't automatically drop everything you're doing. Instead, make an occasional practice of intentionally delaying gratification (i.e., "When the big hand of the clock points at the 5, I will get you your snack").
4. Learn to Praise
Children learn what's acceptable through praise as much as through correction. Make a practice of praising your child when they respond with mature patience. Treat them to ice cream or plan a special trip to the zoo to celebrate their growth.
For more tips on teaching patience, check out this blog post by Scary Mommy.