The 10 best practical strategies to teach toddlers patience.

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June 18, 2022
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The 10 best practical strategies to teach toddlers patience.




This article will teach you practical strategies to teach toddlers patience. There are also specific strategies available to support children with special needs, autism, or ADHD. You’ll also discover why waiting is so difficult for both children and adults.

Some children simply cannot wait.

They could be too young and haven’t yet mastered the art of waiting. They may struggle with impulse control or developmental issues, making waiting for a difficult pill to swallow.

Whatever brought you here, I’ll share a variety of strategies to help you teach your child patience.

Which category of children has a harder time waiting?

  • Toddlers and young children
  • Toddlers who struggle with impulse control
  • Kids with developmental disabilities
  • Children who have difficulty understanding verbal explanations.

Why is it important for children to be taught patience skills?

  • Everyday life is full of situations that require us to wait.
  • Waiting is also often required by social rules.
  • Children who have not learned to wait may act aggressively or impulsively.

Examples of scenarios that call for waiting from our children.

Waiting can take many different forms.

We will require our kids to learn to wait:

  • When something needs time to happen – a movie to start, food to be served in a restaurant, a road trip to end
  • When we are in the middle of a conversation -learning not to interject
  • Playing games -learning to wait for your turn
  • In school/social situations -waiting in line, waiting for the teacher to give instructions.

Why is waiting so difficult for kids?

These are several reasons children find it demanding to wait:

Instant Gratification Trumps Waiting

Let’s be honest. Who wants to wait when they can get whatever they want right away?

Waiting skills are developed throughout childhood as we guide our children through the need to wait to access the things they want.

Sometimes because of time constraints (you can’t eat your cookies until they’re baked).

Sometimes because we have to follow certain rules (you need to wait till you finish dinner to have your dessert)

Time is a Difficult Concept to Grasp

strategies to teach toddlers patience
Time concept

Understanding time takes time. It’s a nebulous concept.

My children would rather wait an hour than 7 minutes when they were younger. One is less than seven.

When you tell your child, “you have to wait 5 minutes,” she may interpret it as “you have to wait a lifetime.”

Lack of Understanding of Social Rules.

Sometimes we have to wait because social rules indicate that it is the proper thing to do. These rules, however, are not always obvious to some children.

Why can’t I leave the table after I’ve finished eating?

Why do we have to stand in line?

Problems with Impulsivity

It’s tedious.

Another harsh reality. Waiting is tedious. I’m sure you don’t enjoy standing in line at the bank or being stuck in traffic.

It bothers your child as well.

Teaching kids patience skills

The following waiting strategies have the following goals:

  • Learning waiting skills
  • Increasing waiting time tolerance

The strategies I’ve listed below can be used at home as well as at school.

Each child is in their world. Look over these suggestions. Try them out. And then decide which ones would be best for your children or students.

I’ll start with some general advice and then get into more specific strategies.

General tips to teach kids how to wait patiently

1. Look for practice opportunities.

These strategies are excellent, but they will be easier to implement if you practice and become acquainted with them when there is no real need for your child/student to wait patiently.

2. Then, move the practice to natural-world waiting situations.

3. Recognize successful waits.

Waiting patiently will be more likely in the future if you have praised your child’s accomplishments.

4. Make it enjoyable.

Create enjoyable waiting situations to put the following advice into practice.

5. Explain why we must wait in various situations (two people talking, waiting for everybody to finish dinner.)

6. Determine when it is appropriate to interrupt a conversation (“I need to go to the bathroom right now,” “I’m feeling sick,” “I’ve been stung by a bee”).

7.      Visual Timers

Problem: As previously stated, time is an abstract concept.

Solution: By using visual timers, you can turn an abstract concept into something tangible that your child can control.

There are numerous options available, including stopwatches, timers, and liquid timers.

Some children may enjoy watching the numbers on a digital stopwatch move down. Others may find that too monotonous, preferring the visual effects of fine sand flowing down an hourglass or colorful oil in a liquid motion timer.

8.      Give your child some control over the waiting time

In some situations, I give my child some control over his waiting time.

When he says, “I’m getting hungry,” but it’s too late for a snack and too early to start dinner, I might say, “How about we wait 10 or 15 minutes before we start preparing the pasta?”

He’ll undoubtedly choose 10, and I’ll say, “Would you like to set the timer for 10 minutes, and then we’ll get to work?”

I’ve discovered that asking him to set the timers works well for him. It allows him to have some control over his waiting time.

9.      Have a code signal for “I hear you. I’ll be with you shortly”

When you’re talking to someone and your child interrupts you, you can devise a “code” that means “I hear you.” “I’ll be there shortly.”

Simply squeezing their hand and then finishing what you were saying can suffice.

You may need to make this transition quickly at first (to teach your child that this works), and then gradually extend the time your child must wait over several waiting situations.

10.    Distractions / Waiting Activities / Waiting Games

Sometimes all we have to do is wait.

We’re on a road trip, and we’re waiting for our lunch in a restaurant.

Having a variety of games that they can play on their own and as a family can be extremely beneficial for waiting times.

Autism-friendly Waiting Strategies

Autism Related Articles.

Homeschooling Children with Autism

Activities for Children with Special Needs.

Waiting time is especially difficult for some children with autism and other special needs. Here are some autism-friendly waiting techniques (and as such, they will also work wonders with kids that have fewer challenges learning the concept of time)

11.    Wait for my 10 fingers to lift

Our child has a running message in his head that says, “Mommy is mine, and I don’t want to share her with anyone else.”

While he must learn that Mom must be shared with the rest of the family, he requires additional assistance in doing so.

He has autism, and while he understands the concepts of sharing and waiting, my interactions with other people can easily lead to very difficult situations.

This is a trick that our psychologists taught us:

Hold your child’s forearm with both hands and tell them, “Now you will wait until all of my fingers are up.”

And you gradually begin lifting one finger at a time while conversing with someone else.

This strategy allows your child to maintain a part of your physical attention while you interact with another person.

12.    Behavioral Strategies: “Non-contingent attention” program to teach your child not to interrupt

This was part of a behavioral plan designed for a child with autism. He began disruptive attention-seeking behaviors whenever the adult caring for him engaged in a conversation with another person.

Non-contingent refers to giving attention for no particular reason.

Your child will receive the attention he or she craves without having to interrupt you.

This strategy will have to be implemented gradually:

Acknowledging your child before engaging in another person’s interaction

Providing attention at very high rates of attention (every minute or even less) while engaging with another person

Slowly increasing the amount of time that elapses between attention moments (e.g. 3-5 minutes)

The final objective is for the kid to learn, regulate, and wait.

13.    Wait Card

A “Wait Card” is a visual cue that indicates a period for the child to wait.

Visual cues are usually used with children with autism. The card reinforces the message you are conveying verbally.

How to apply it:

Make sure your child understands the working mechanics.

Select a waiting situation or game in which the child must wait for his turn.

Hand the waiting card to your child or student and explain that she will have to wait (to talk to you or take a turn) while the card is in her hand.

When the waiting period is over, say, “Now you are waiting.”

More practical Strategies to instill patience in your child.

1. Describe why we are waiting.

Depending on the child’s receptive language level, always explain why a request cannot be fulfilled right away. “The chips are still in the oven.” Lynn’s book includes a great social story about waiting.

2. Model standing by

Wait with them, similar to co-regulation. As adults, we often do the making, sorting, cooking, and so on. Try to create opportunities to wait as well. For example, if you’re waiting for a bus or train, sit with them, don’t use your phone, and don’t pace up and down.

3. Assign jobs to your child.

When teaching a child to wait, don’t be afraid to help them in passing the time. Dinnertime is a good example of this. The child can arrange the cutlery, for example. You are occupying your time with meaningful activities. You are also aiding them in developing their life skills by doing so.

4. Reduce your reliance on technology.

Instant feedback and on-demand games, videos, and other media do not aid in the teaching of patience. When forced to wait, technology can be your best friend, but use it wisely. When you’re tempted to give your child an iPad or your phone, make them wait. for 5 minutes, and so on. Set a landmark to reach before turning on your screen while driving.

5. Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety about the event for which the child is expected to wait can make the wait stressful. For example, waiting for the dentist can seem interminable. Planning of time can help cut down on waiting time. For example, call ahead to see if the dentist is running late. Prepare the child ahead of time by providing key information or a social story.

6. Have a ‘waiting box’ for resources available.

I had a difficult class that had to wait for lunch while the staff prepared it. I invented the “wait box.” Simply put, it was a small box of motivating resources that kept fingers and minds occupied. These are quick and easy to put together. The key is to keep these resources available for a limited time to maintain interest.

7. Make use of visuals

Visuals are critical components of any classroom. Now and next boards can help children understand that the event they are anticipating will occur. Make your own using the templates provided below.

8. Keep promises

If you say you’re going to do something, you must follow through. If a child has waited for something, you must reinforce their achievement by making sure they receive it/it occurs. Never sanction something for which a child has waited. This undermines trust and makes it more difficult to extend wait times in the future if necessary.

9. Slow down

Mindfulness, calm, low arousal environments promote patience far more than frantic, busy, exciting, always-on-the-go environments. We can reduce waiting problems by slowing down. “Hurry up and wait,” the army says. Routines that are carefully planned and watched should ignore the need for excessive waiting.

More strategies to teach kids patience are well elaborated here


Instilling patience in kids and toddlers is an important aspect of their growth and development. From a tender age, they will learn how to hold on and wait for their turn to come and you can’t imagine the extent this would go in shaping their personality, both at school, their interaction with others during play, and in their later lives as grown-ups. Take the bold step today and start the journey.

We offer customized education and life skills lessons to kids both in school setup and those homeschooling. Contact us here anytime for inquiries.

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