Waiting Games: Coping Skills for Your Impatient Child

More Coping Skills

Give Him a Sense of Control

As an adult, you know that when you have to wait for something you can often make the delay more bearable by texting a friend or flipping through a magazine to find a recipe for dinner. But when preschoolers are asked to sit tight, they usually have little say over what to do while they're waiting. The next time your child is begging you to play but you need to finish folding the laundry first, encourage him to figure out how to entertain himself. This way, he'll be learning how to distract himself. Say, "I know you want me to play cars right now, but I've got some housework I have to get done first. Why don't you go to the toy box and see if there is something in there you can do for a little while." If he's stuck, prompt him and suggest that he pick a puzzle to pass the time.

Keep it Fun

Helping your child practice patience in entertaining ways will show her that it isn't that bad. Most board games involve some kind of waiting for a turn, so try scheduling family game nights. She'll learn that in order to play, she has to sit back while others have their turn. "Keep the game moving along quickly, though, because you can't really expect her to easily slog through three others pondering their next moves," says Dr. Drucker. Give her a pep talk if she gets restless ("I like how you're being patient while Dad takes his turn").

Visuals can also make waiting more fun. If there are endless weeks looming between now and a vacation or a birthday, try making a paper countdown chain. Inside each loop, write down something to do together, like baking cookies or going on a bike ride. Each day, she can remove one link and you can do the activity. Watching the chain shrink in size will help her see in a concrete way that the event really is getting closer.

Look Back

As your preschooler gets more experiences under his belt, use those memories as a way to stay patient again, suggests Dr. Drucker. Talk about the experience afterward, and say, "It was hard to wait in line for the ride, but didn't you love going on the carousel horse?" The next time you're in a similar situation, you can say, "Remember when we had to wait for our turn on the horse? We sang a few songs together, and then we got to go on. Let's do the same thing now." Reminding him how he successfully played the waiting game in the past could turn being patient into a doable task instead of something he dreads.

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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