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The Waiting Game

How do we respond when asked to wait?

In our individualistic society, adults are notoriously impatient when faced with a line—in a store, at the doctor’s office, or on the freeway. From an early age, children may observe us muttering, “Oh, no,” “I can’t believe this,” when faced with what might be a longer wait than we expected. It’s funny that we don’t handle it more gracefully, as it’s estimated we spend from two to five years of our life waiting in various lines.

Yet we want children to be able to wait calmly, not just while standing in line but in a variety of situations where good social skills and manners are hoped for. Being able to wait graciously without apparent anxiety or distress helps others and lays the groundwork for cooperation and harmony.

The ability to wait begins in childhood with trying to take turns, waiting for another child to finish with a toy before getting to use it, without grabbing. Adults can help children bear the agitation of delaying gratification by empathizing with how hard waiting can be in their own lives and complimenting children on their self-control. Teachers sometimes set a timer, offering a waiting card, or substituting another activity temporarily.

Then there’s the self-regulation of standing in line without giving in to the temptation to push or put your hands on the person ahead of or behind them. At circle time, there’s learning to raise your hand and the self-control of waiting for another person to finish speaking before you offer your ideas.

We can teach the value of being able to wait in a kind and cooperative way by demonstrating the ability in our interactions with them, even when it’s hard. Waiting for them to come up with the answer to a question. Waiting for them to complete a chore. Waiting for them to finish their homework.

Since children are all individuals with different energy levels, interests, sensory experiences, and neural pathways, they benefit when adults understand their struggles and needs. The ability to wait peacefully comes with brain development, practice, and loving encouragement.

There are many strategies to help children to learn patience while waiting. Here are a few online resources:


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