Why Toddlers are So Impatient
Young children have no concept of the passage of time. A one-year-old can't look at the clock and reason that even though it feels like she's been waiting for hours, it's only been three minutes. To her, every second of waiting is long and torturous. "Children don't have the experience to know that things do happen when you wait," says Betsy Brown Braun, child development and behavior specialist, and author of Just Tell Me What to Say. When your child was a baby, you responded to her every need almost immediately. Now she suddenly has to wait—and that, like every skill, takes some practice. Some kids are also just more impatient than others, in which case you might just need to admire her yearning for what's next in life.
What to Do
"The child that has never been patient can't be expected to be patient," says Braun, so help her build this skill gradually. Just as you don't expect her to suddenly speak in full sentences, a one-year-old probably cannot wait patiently for more than a few minutes, or seconds, even. "We want to help build a tolerance for impatience," says Braun.
Build the waiting game into daily activities. Braun suggests saying, "I'll get your juice in one minute," then stall for a minute and say, "Here's your juice. You waited! You were patient!" As she gets more successful, build up to two, three, and four minutes. "Even if it's only two seconds, they have to start somewhere," says Braun. To help her visualize the passage of time, have her sing a song she knows and tell her that, "At the end of Twinkle, Twinkle, your snack will be ready." If you catch your child in the act of being patient, lay on the positive feedback. "I really like how you found a book to read while you waited. It's so helpful to me that you can wait patiently."
Use these tips when waiting with toddlers outside the home.
Keep in Mind
Toddlers are known for their displays of power: tantrums, saying "no," refusing bedtime. These behaviors are signs that your child is ready to learn the limits of her power as well. She doesn't always get what she wants, and she certainly doesn't always get it right when she wants it. "We really sabotage our kids' abilities to be patient with so many people meeting their needs at any time," says Braun. It can be a difficult shift—for both you and her. Swiftly meeting her needs as an infant was your way of showing her that you're dependable. You might hate to feel like you're denying her now, but you're really teaching her a skill and helping her to realize that things do come in time.
Finally, make sure you're asking for a reasonable amount of patience from your child. No toddler can be expected to wait patiently for more than 5 to 10 minutes without a distraction. And if it's food she's needing, forget it. Hunger shortens everyone's fuse. The next time you lose patience with your toddler's impatience, remember how you feel when you hear the words "price check" at the grocery store and empathize, "I know it's hard to wait."
More Toddler Misbehaviors
Check out these other problem behaviors—and solutions: