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Help Me Sara: How can I help my children develop patience?

It begins when our children are infants. Most cry when their diaper is wet or soiled and when they are hungry and want to be fed. As parents, we respond to their needs immediately. We change the diaper or feed until they are satiated. Infants learn to trust the people in their world when they are taken care of and attended to immediately. However, as they grow into toddlerhood, childhood and ultimately become teenagers, we are perpetually perplexed about how to delay immediate gratification. We worry about our children appearing to want their needs met instantaneously and fear the consequences when they are not.

Father daughter baking - help me sara: how can i help my children develop patience?

So, how can we help our children develop patience in a seemingly impatient world? How can we slow things down so that they develop tolerance for putting gratification on hold? And are we – as parents – their only influence?

Let’s start at the very beginning – infancy. At this stage, I suggest erring on the side of speed when attending to your baby’s needs. If he’s left too long in a dirty diaper, he might develop a rash or cry in discomfort. He is one hundred percent reliant on you to understand what he is communicating through his cries and cannot fend for himself. However, once he begins communicating with words and is a little more independent and aware of his world, consider the message you are sending when you drop what you are doing to respond to every request – no matter how small. I’m not suggesting that you don’t respond but just that you weigh the urgency of the request and respond accordingly. So, if it can wait a couple of minutes, then ask for his “patience” while you finish putting the dishes away and then encourage more of the same by complimenting him for waiting until he could get your undivided attention.

Along the same lines as developing patience, children benefit from learning to delay gratification. This is difficult to model and teach in a world where adults and children alike look forward to the next upgraded technological gadget long before the current one has become outdated. They have information at their fingertips the second they key a word or two onto their computer screen. They are constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest in not only technology, but clothing, toys, and other paraphernalia, so the drive towards keeping up with one’s peers is at an all time high.

Try activities that require patience, such as baking and gardening. Saving money for a special purchase also requires patience. Ask your children to create a wish list and to help save towards the things they want, rather than rushing out to buy it the second it hits the shelves. After saving and waiting, those items may be even more appreciated. If you model the same patience, then you will be reinforcing this even more.

As the old saying goes: “All good things come to those who wait.”

Patience Throught the Ages

Baby and Toddler

Make an effort to stay calm when baby cries while you try to determine the possible causes of the discomfort. Put aside everything else when comforting your infant so that he is assured of your time and attention. If you model patience when your toddler, for example, is learning a new task or mastering a skill, then he will learn from your positive behaviour. When you tell him, “It’s okay, take your time. I know you will get it,” or “I have patience to wait until you are ready,” he will do this for others and feel that it’s okay to take things at his own pace, even when you’d really prefer he speed up.

Preschool & School

Resist the urge to do for your child because you’re in a hurry. Now is the time to build their confidence and independence as they learn to dress themselves or put on their coats and shoes. Then, as your child moves into his school-aged years, he may have a better appreciation of your time, as well as a greater ability to wait his turn. This will be appreciated in a classroom of 20 or more students when the teacher requests that students put their hands up and wait patiently until another classmate has spoken or that each waits his turn as pizza is handed out at lunch.

Tweens & Teens

Helping our children to slow things down, wait their turn and to delay gratification will create safer, more patient teen (ultimately adult) drivers, and kinder people who have increased tolerance of others and who have a greater appreciation for savouring anticipation.

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.

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