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How to teach your children patience

Children live in the moment - but you can teach them to think of the future, too with these tips and children books on how to teach kids the art of being patient

Lifeskills: How to teach your child patience

Patience may be a virtue, but as every parent knows it’s not one that many children process. Teaching patience in children is about more than making road trips and supermarket shops go more smoothly; it’s also one of the most important life skills your child can learn while he or she is young.

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As patience is one of the first steps to learning delayed gratification, which contributes not only to career success, but also health, relationships, and more as they get older and become adults. Teaching children to be patient can seem enigmatic at first but, thankfully there are so many times in a day where you can reinforce patience with your kids without them really noticing you are ‘teaching’ them a lifelong skill.

No one wants to see children refusing to wait their turn or throwing a wobbler when they can’t have everything they want right now; Although, these are common traits of early childhood they are also a learning opportunity. Teaching your child to be patient will help her develop a better understanding of acceptable social conduct and curb bad behaviour in the long run.

5 Ways to teach patience to young children

  • Lead by Example

It’s hard to be patient if you’re not sure what it means, so give your child a model to follow. If you’re waiting for her to put on her coat say, “It’s okay, I can wait. I’m patient.” Your child will follow your example, so no huffing and puffing in the supermarket queue or before the school run!

  • The Art of Waiting 

As the concept of time is not quite developed you need to teach your child the concept of delayed gratification. Try baking a cake together or charting the growth of a sunflower and while waiting talk about how you are going to decorate cake or how big the sunflower may grow. Your child will be more patient if she is occupied while she is waiting – try to avoid using electronics to while away time at this point –  and encourage them to be in the present.

Involving them in the process of thinking of activities or ways to ‘pass the time’ means she’ll be better able to cope the next time she can’t have what she wants straight away and this also allows your child to feel time passing while still having a positive experience through it.

  • Set a Timeframe

Just how long is a while for a child? A minute can feel like an eternity for young children so when asking your child to wait, be specific about timeframes, or tell her what will happen first. For example, “We can go to the park when I’ve finished working on the computer” or ‘You can have an ice-cream when we get to grannies/town/the beach’. Try to stay patient yourself, be kind and positive even when they ask for the hundrieth time!

  • Use Visualisation they can Understand

If your child constantly pushes in and won’t wait her turn, ask her how she’d feel if someone did that to her. The more she is able to empathise with other people, the more sensitive she’ll be towards them. Or, use visual tools like a chart or calendar that they can cross off, say, “Christmas / their birthday party is 7 sleeps away.” or, “We will drive to the theme park and the journey is about as long as one Disney movie length away.”

  • Be Honest 

Every parent promises a child something in the near or distant future with a “we’ll see”, “soon” or “maybe, one day” reply in the hope that they’ll get distracted and forget about it soon enough. But, this can have a negative effect on your child developing an accurate sense of time if the wait goes on and on, and can create a mindset in your child that if he or she has to wait five minute or ten minutes that it will actually take “ages,” or never come because that’s what they’ve experienced in the past. Try to be accurate and keep your promises even when your child asks “how long until I can have XYZ?” or the classic “are we there yet?” and give them as much information as you can to help them understand there will be a wait.

Great Books to teach young children patience

In this magically illustrated story the young girl Miyuki, who we first met in the critically acclaimed Time for Bed, Miyuki, anxiously awaits the opening of one sleepy flower – and the important lesson that good things come to those who wait. >> Patience, Miyuki by Roxane Marie Galliez and illustrated by Send Soon Ratanavanh

Three stories of three eagerly friends who are each waiting for something worthwhile and practicing the art of patience while they’re at it! >> I Can’t wait by Amy Schwartz

Five minutes is a lot of time… or is it? Well, it depends on what you’re doing, of course! A very funny picture book thats perfect for any kid who has ever begged or bemoaned for Five more minutes?! (all kid then!) >> Five Minutes: (That’s a Lot of Time) (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is) By Audrey Veronica

This funny, charming story is the perfect way to introduce young children to being patient, and help them understand the importance of waiting their turn. >> Croc Needs to Wait: A book about patience by Sue Graves and Trevor Dunton

Timeless, beautiful, and deeply heartfelt, this picture book teaches young children about the art of waiting. Waiting is a big part of childhood – waiting in line, waiting to grow up, waiting for something special to happen and allow kids to explore their emotions about that ultimate frustration: waiting! >> Waiting by Kevin Henkes

This hilarious story and rhymes shows children how to get unstuck from their impatience and enjoy peace and the people around them with a little help from Remy, the impatient Rhino. >> Remy The Rhino Learns Patience By Andy McGuire

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A gentle picture book that examines the issue of patience in a reassuring way – perfect for young children who struggle with waiting their turn. >> I Don’t Want to Wait! A book about patience by Sue Graves