4 Ways to Cultivate Patience

Image via Katie Hurley

Patience is one of those essential life skills that all parents hope their children will develop as soon as practically possible (even if that means a parent is being a bit impatient), and for good reason.  Kids need to learn how to wait for things.  Whether a toddler is waiting for mom to help tie a shoe or a school age child is trying to work through a difficult math problem, things don’t always come easily and/or immediately.  Sometimes we just have to wait.

That said, it should be noted that some children are inherently more patient than others.  Some seem to be able to wait, while others squirm with discomfort after thirty seconds of waiting. 

It’s important to recognize that personality does, in fact, play a role in a child’s ability to wait for things and that patience, like many other things, is a skill that needs to be taught.

The truth is that we all live in an instant gratification world these days.  As much as we might think that we model patience, every time we order something via Amazon Prime or instantly download books to our Kindles we send a very powerful message:  You don’t actually have to wait very long.  And while some conveniences certainly do make life easier, we all need to find balance if we want to teach our children how to wait.

4 tips for cultivating patience:

Image via Flickr/ numb3r

Use timers:

Sometimes a child gets hurt and a parent runs to the child’s side because the child truly needs help in that moment.  That’s important.  We want our children to know that we are there to help them.  Other times, parents run simply because a child has called out.  This isn’t always necessary.

Part of teaching children to wait is resisting the urge to jump every time they call our names.  Sure, we want to help our kids and support them through frustrating moments.  But we also want them to learn to keep trying while they wait. 

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Timers can be very useful when it comes to teaching young children to wait.  When your child becomes impatient with a task and starts yelling for help, say that you’re setting a timer for three minutes and resist the urge to get there before the timer beeps.  Chances are your child will have solved the problem before you even arrive.

Digital timers and egg timers are also a great way to give kids a feeling of control over the waiting period.  When they can visualize time passing, they can begin to understand that they are capable of waiting.


mother talking with her unhappy son at home
Image via iStock

Use reflective listening:

Waiting can be very frustrating.  Think about how it feels to be stuck in traffic when you’re running late for a meeting or how it feels to sit an wait for an appointment after showing up exactly on time.  Even adults struggle with patience at times.

Kids often lack the language to convey their feelings about waiting, which is why they resort to whining, repeated questions, and tantrums.  Help your child find the language to describe their feelings by reflecting upon the situation.  What you hear as whining is more likely you’re child feeling frustrated.  Saying something like, “It is really hard to wait in this line, it feels like it’s taking forever and we would much rather be playing”, acknowledges your child’s feelings while teaching your child how to communicate in a more adaptive style.

Image via Flickr/ tjmwatson

Do long term projects:

When little kids have a plan in mind, they like to execute it immediately.  Sometimes that works, but other times it doesn’t.  A 24-piece puzzle, for instance, can be completed fairly quickly, but a 100-piece puzzle takes time and patience. 

Long-term projects teach kids to take things one-step at a time instead of racing to the finish.  When a project can’t be completed in one sitting, kids learn to put more thought and consideration into each small step. 

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Find a project that you can do with your child and talk about each step before you begin.  Establish a timeline together and work out a plan (these are all skills that will come in handy as your child progresses in school).  Fun examples include:

  • Planting seeds
  • Building a fairy house
  • Building a castle from Legos
  • Woodworking projects
  • Sewing projects 
Image via Flickr/ Jodimichelle

Create a “waiting toolbox”: 

Adults know how to pass the time, even if they do become frustrated when waiting.  Most kids, on the other hand, don’t know how to wait.  What do you do when you’re stuck in line at the grocery store or sitting in unexpected traffic? 


Teach your kids a few strategies to get through the boring moments.  Remember family road trips before you could watch TV or play games on the go?  Try to tap into those memories to find some strategies to pass along to your kids.  Examples:

  • Sing silly songs
  • Tell jokes
  • Play I Spy
  • Think of words beginning with each letter of the alphabet
  • Make up stories together (each person says one line at a time)
  • Make a favorites list

And don’t forget about the importance of imaginary play.  Kids who engage in imaginary play learn to tap into their creativity during times of stress and/or frustration, including when they need to be patient. 

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Is you child patient? Are you? 

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4 Ways to Cultivate Patience

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I love the ideas especially the long term projects! I myself want to plant trees again 🙂


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