Worried about teaching patience to your preschooler? It might sound like a concept too complicated for young minds, but you’d be surprised what they can understand!
Before we even begin, it’s important to note that young children are not capable of fully understanding time or delayed gratification. They’re just not quite there cognitively, yet.
However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t begin to understand the general concept of patience, and why it’s important.
I’m a big believer in exposing our kids to big topics as early as possible. Even if they don’t grasp everything you’re saying, it’s still a positive and helpful experience for the both of you. At the very least, it promotes connection between children and parents, and works on language skills.
Can your Preschooler Understand Patience
Yes, and no. They won’t be able to wrap their heads around the benefits of patience, and the complexities of good character, but they can understand how their actions affect others, and how positivity is better than negativity.
Why is Patience Important, Anyway?
When I began writing this article, I realized I actually had some thinking to do on why patience is even important, and why I want to instill the value in my children from a young age.
I knew it was a valuable skill, I just had to work through why it was important.
It certainly isn’t simply because other people (including me) get irritated with hearing a constant barrage of questions and whining about the same thing. Though, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a major upside.
No, I didn’t want to teach my kids about patience because others shouldn’t have to hear them being impatient. I knew it was important for their own sense of self, and a vital skill for every human being to know well.
Well, I realized a couple of things.
- A person who knows how to be patient has self control and good coping techniques, making for a happier life. When life throws them curveballs, they know how to handle it with more grace than others. They’re more likely to save money and reel in their impulsivity.
- A person who is patient has practiced mindfulness and knows how to appreciate the present moment and enjoy the journey to the gratification, instead of living for the thrill of bouncing from thing to thing. A little adventure never hurt anyone, but to live for moments of thrill can leave you feeling more depleted than ever.
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How to Teach Patience to Preschoolers
Talk to your Preschooler about Patience
The first step is always to create an open dialogue with our children. Begin by bringing up the topic of patience when they’re calm, perhaps after a moment of upset from impatience, once they’ve calmed down.
You can say something like, “I can tell that you were upset because you wanted x at that exact moment. Waiting for things we’re excited about can be tough, and it’s a skill that everyone has to work on, even adults!”
That’s a copy of my “P is for Patience” printout from my Pumpkin Preschool Unit. It doesn’t make a ton of sense if you don’t read Little Boo, but it gives you a good idea of how you can approach the topic of patience with your child.
Try the Patience Stretching Technique
Expose your preschooler to short moments where they must practice patience. For instance, if your child asks for a snack, address their request immediately, begin to give it to them, and then stop and say “Oh, gosh. One moment! Let me do x really fast… Okay, good job waiting, here you go!”
Learn more about patience stretching here. It sounds more strange than it is. It’s basically just exposing your child to instances where they have to practice patience in a kind and gentle way, in a setting that makes them feel heard and understood so there are no tears.
Think of all the ways you could potentially respond to your preschooler asking you for something. “Not now, Mommy’s busy.” “Gosh, again? Okay, hold on.”
Respond positively and address their needs, but ask them to wait a few seconds here and there to gently show them what patience is all about. They feel understood, and usually pretty calm. They’re getting better about being patient without even realizing it!
Stay Positive and Kind, and Give them Answers
Trust me, I know it’s not always easy to respond with positivity and kindness. It’s something we all have to consciously work towards. It doesn’t come naturally to me any more than it probably does to you. It’s hard work that we have to pay attention to every day.
But the payoff is so significant! It’s worth it. Try your best to respond with positivity and kindness, even when your child is being downright irritating. They’re still learning too, after all. We all are.
Answering their questions as best as you can will go a long way, too. If your child is incessantly asking when you’re going to arrive at your destination, perhaps giving them a set time or number of miles might help.
“The GPS says we should arrive by about 2:23PM, because we’re still 17 miles away. Maybe you could watch the clock or guess how many miles we’ve gone every now and then!”
Every human wants answers on when things are happening to them, and what’s going on. Being honest with them instead of shutting them down will go a long way, and will help them feel more in control of their lives. Everyone deserves to feel that way.
Creating countdowns and visual representations is a great way to show your child that they’re not powerless, and to give them a good idea of when things are going to happen.
When all else fails, and your child is still asking the same question in the back like a crazy person, just breathe and focus on your own peace.
Let them Experience Waiting
I know it’s easy to want to give our children everything, ASAP, especially if it keeps us from an embarrassing moment at the grocery store. But sometimes disappointment is healthy. We’d be doing ourselves and our children a disservice to wait on them hand-and-foot with no wait times and no exceptions. Hearing the words, “not right now” and “not today” is hard, but totally necessary for development.
I mean, have you ever met an adult who acts indignant when things aren’t done according to their selfish timeline? Yeah, those people suck. Let’s not let our kids grow up thinking that behavior is okay. Catering to that behavior is how that happens. Some people truly never grow out of it because it was supported throughout childhood.
Make it Fun
Kids learn through play. Try making the discussion about patience fun by introducing activities and games that require it! Most games require your child to take turns, which is great! Even something as simple as playing “Red Light, Green Light,” can make your child squeal with excitement as they naturally learn about patience!
Keep your Promises
Keeping our promises to our children is important in general, and even more so when it comes to building patience and trust. If we don’t keep our promises about going to the park or doing things our kids enjoy, they will feel powerless and most likely exhibit more impatience and angst, as they won’t know what’s true.
How do you discuss patience with your preschooler? Have you found a certain phrase or activity helpful? Please, let us know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!
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