Preschoolers and the Value of Learning to Wait
There are so many things we need to teach our toddlers, such as how to put on their t-shirt and how to brush their teeth, but we also need to teach our toddlers how to wait.
Waiting is challenging for our young children, because their developing brains haven’t grasped abstract concepts yet. This means that they can’t fully appreciate what will happen if they actually DO wait patiently. They just don’t have self-control yet.
Two minutes may be a short time for us, but to a toddler, it’s a long time. In research studies, two-year-olds can typically only wait just a few minutes before repeatedly asking for (or taking!) what they want. This isn’t because they are trying to get on our nerves, it’s because their brains haven’t yet developed the capacity to understand what will happen if they DO wait, and so they don’t have the self-control to wait.
Parents and caregivers should encourage toddlers to practice waiting, as children who can delay gratification have been shown to have more success later in life with relationships, work and handling stress.
Here’s what parents and caregivers can do:
- In your everyday interactions with your toddler, don't feel that you need to attend to your child's wants and needs immediately. You can say, "I'll get you an apple in one minute, once I'm finished writing this email." Just be sure that in one minute you proceed as promised. When going to the park, say, "We're leaving in five minutes, I'll set the timer."
- You can help your toddler learn that a minute really isn’t very long by setting a timer. They’ll be so busy watching the seconds tick away (or the sand tumble through an hourglass) that they’ll forget their impatience. A timer also gives children a sense of control — they know that when time’s up, they'll get what they've been waiting for (so be sure to follow through when that bell rings).
- Remember, that learning to delay gratification might mean that toddlers whimper some, whine a bit, cry a few tears, argue, and drag their feet before forging ahead.
- Try to refrain from saying “Thank You” for waiting, but rather label the behavior. Such as: “You played quietly while I finished getting ready this morning. That was helpful! Or “When you sing songs to yourself when we are waiting in the checkout line, we can finish our shopping faster.”
Here's another article you might find interesting: "Delaying Gratification" by Linda Sonna, Ph.D.
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