Finding the Fun in Teaching Patience to Preschoolers

by Joy Turner March 23, 2023

girl crying in a field

When children are little, they absorb a constant stream of information as they encounter new experiences every day. It is amazing for our children to see all the world has to offer, but it can also be quite overwhelming. Our little ones are bound to feel excitement and happiness but also sadness, frustration and many other feelings that require self-regulation skills.

This is why learning patience, the ability to remain calm during a difficult situation or to demonstrate self-control while waiting for something to occur, is a necessity for your child. While some skills like taking turns develops as children age and gain self-awareness, working on building patience through flexibility, resiliency and carefulness at an early age can give your children a significant advantage in life.

Let’s try some fun activities to help your children grow and understand themselves, their boundaries and others.

Let’s try taking turns

Taking turns is a vital starting point for patience. Teaching children to let others have a turn and then waiting for their own can instill the importance of equity among peers. Practice this during game night. Using your children's favorite game or a new one, make sure every player patiently waits for their time to play. Modeling and adult-supported facilitation will help your children practice executive functioning skills such as waiting for a turn or waiting for an object. Expand on this with a trip to the local park where your children will have to share the equipment and take turns with others.

Let’s try a new hobby

Just like patience itself, new hobbies can take time to learn. Whether it’s gardening, cooking, building, or some other cognitive activity, making an effort to slow down with your child as they learn a new or difficult task can test their patience and provide an opportunity for further discussion. Purchase a puzzle for the entire family to put together, but choose one that is a little more challenging for your child and focus on offering your child positive support throughout the process.

Use language such as, “I know this is hard. What color piece should we be looking for?” or “Stick with it; try turning the piece in different directions” and “Don’t give up; you’ve got this!” Modeling this type of language will help your child develop the problem-solving skills needed to be more resilient. Continue to provide praise, optimism and solution-finding skills throughout the process.

Let’s try changing things up

Children who develop cognitive flexibility or the ability to switch gears are better able to problem solve, get along with others and try new things. Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Have breakfast for dinner. Eat ice cream with a fork. Have your child read a bedtime story to you. Have a meal outside in the yard or a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way, while having fun in the process.

Let’s try singing a song to pass the time

There are more than just board games when it comes to fun ways to practice patience with your child. Try singing a song to pass the time when there’s a waiting period. An easy one to remember goes like this: (set to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”)

“Waiting is so hard to do,

It takes a lot of patience.

I’ll sing a song as I wait,

And be so very patient.”

(Repeat the song, and change the action in the third line to read a story, play a game, talk to a friend, etc.)

Let’s try praising and affirming your child’s behavior

As you age, self-assurance becomes more regulated by your own emotions and actions. But our children still need consistent guidance on whether or not what they’re doing is the right thing. Try praising your children when you see them practice patience, and let them know you are aware of their efforts. Reaffirming positive actions will likely lead to a repeat of this new skill in the future. Read a book like “The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do” by Ashley Spires and practice cheering on and praising the main character, Lou, as she tries to climb a tree with her friends.

Patience is not a skill that can be learned in a day. It is a form of wisdom that puts pride aside and informs the ways we understand and react. The practice of patience is a continuous effort, but it is an ability that will benefit your children for the rest of their lives. Be sure to take the time to enjoy creative ways to really develop this character essential.

Joy Turner


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