Learning to Wait

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(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

Betty Bunny is a handful. She is so in love with chocolate cake that she vows, “I am going to marry chocolate cake!” She tries every way she can think of to get as much chocolate cake as she wants. After a noisy, angry tantrum because she couldn’t eat just chocolate cake for dinner, her mother sends her straight to bed. Mom does, however, give Betty Bunny a second chance to be patient. She saves her a piece of cake in the fridge for the next night. But, Betty Bunny just can’t leave the cake behind in the fridge while she goes to school. She finds a way to have it with her all day. But, by dinnertime it is no good. It’s just a big chocolate mess. Mom saves her yet another piece of cake for the next night, hoping she will be patient this time. Betty Bunny remembers not to do what she did the day before, but patient she is not. Instead, still unable to wait, she cleverly, but disobediently, comes up with yet a second sly way to remove the cake from the fridge and have it with her every step of the way to school.

Parenting Thoughts

When do kids begin to learn about waiting?

Babies (6 mos. and younger) – best that they not “wait.” They need a quick response to their cries. 58 SidebarBut, they do need to cry long enough to clearly ask for help. In other words, give them a short time to cry – their way of saying they need something – but don’t leave them to “cry it out.”

They need to know they are getting a response to their own crying. That is what teaches them that this world is a good place and they can trust that people will take care of them.

This is important information for parents using baby monitors. Too often when a monitor is in place, parents tend to run to the baby with the first tiny sound.

Instead, let that be your signal to wait a few minutes to see if the baby is really going to start crying out in a way that tells you clearly he needs something. That way when you go to him he knows you heard his cry and you responded. What a great world this is!

Often babies will make all sorts of noises that are not really cries for help. If you wait a minute they may just readjust, find something interesting to look at, or fall back asleep.25 P3 SideBar 3

Young kids (18 months to three-years-old) – begin to learn to wait when they start saying “no.” When children begin to say no, it’s a sign that they know what they want.

Being able to wait requires that you:

  1. Know what you want and how much you want it;
  2. Can plan for how to get it;
  3. Can stick to a plan to get it; and
  4. Keep trying until you get it.

44 Sidebar 2Waiting is all about keeping on – being persistent. People who are able to wait trust themselves to stay on task and believe they will reach their goal eventually.

So, all of you parents that are in that “no” stage with your children, remember that the bright side is that they are practicing persistence. Unfortunately it is persistence at having their own way, which is very challenging for parents.

Blog14 Sidebar2All of those times you are having to insist they do what you want them to do even while they are loudly complaining, you can remember that the complaining means they are learning to stick with things they want.

Later on when they want to get an A in Math or make the soccer team, you’ll be glad they know how to stick with it and persist.


It is important that we insist that young children do what is expected of them even when it is not what they want. But, it is possible to hold the line on what we need them to do while still encouraging them to think for themselves and to be persistent.

  • “You will have to hold my hand so you are safe, but I see that you really like to run ahead on your own.”
  • “I wish I could give you what you want, but it wouldn’t be good for you right now. Maybe later.”
  • “I see how hard you are trying to get out of your car seat, but I can’t let you do that right now. When we get home, you can climb out.”

These are all messages that hold the line, but let your child know that he is learning to think for himself and is trying hard to get what he wants or needs.

Older kids (school ages) – are learning to make plans to get what they want. In the beginning they will likely struggle to stick with the plan and to be patient until they reach their goal.

Parents can help children make realistic plans and encourage them to be persistent and patient. Be sure to tell them about things that you are “waiting” for and how you are working toward your goals.

Why do my kids need to learn to wait?
  • Impulsiveness
  • I-want-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now attitudes
  • No ability to plan and wait for results

These are at the root of so many troubles kids get into.

Kids who can’t wait:28 Sidebar 1

  • Can’t share with their brothers, sisters and friends.
  • Let money burn a hole in their pocket.  As soon as money arrives from a gift or a tooth fairy – off they go to the store.
  • Are more likely to be sexually active too early and not use protection.
  • Let their schoolwork slide.
  • Make poor career decisions.  Planning for a career is a long-term plan. You have to work toward a career in school and then wait for your skills and opportunities to come together throughout your life. This may be one of the most critical reasons kids need to learn to wait.
Why is it hard for my kids to wait?

As our world has speeded up, children have learned to expect everything instantly. They expect to get what they want when they want it, to get answers quickly, to be able to do things instantly, and to have comforts that their parents worked for decades to have.  For example, kids go way to college now expecting to have the same comfortable living arrangements that their parents didn’t have until age 40 or later.

The speed of the computer leads all of us to be more impatient with waiting and want everything instantly.  We have learned to measure all interactions in terms of seconds.  How fast can I get to a new screen, get the answer to my question, or make contact with another person?  “No waiting” is how we judge the value of a product or service.

What can I do to help my kids learn to wait?

Examples:51 Sidebar 2

  • Let them struggle to put the puzzle together – don’t immediately “show” them.
  • Let them reach for a toy – don’t hand it to them.
  • Let them learn to turn a toy on or open it up – don’t do it for them.
  • Don’t replace a lost pet so they won’t have to be sad. Wait until they have worked through being sad and the time is right for the whole family to have a new pet.
  • Don’t give them money when they are “dying” for some new thing. Help them plan a way to earn their own money for the thing they want.
  • Have house rules, stick to them, and hold the line when it comes to consequences for breaking rules.Blog4 Sidebar4

When we jump in and “help” to avoid the tantrum the child might have, we stop them from persisting. They get what they want right away, but don’t learn that if they struggle for something there is a payoff – getting something they want.

When we make excuses for them when they mess up, we stop them from understanding cause and effect. When I mess up, I have to pay a consequence. Understanding cause and effect is also important in learning to wait. When I plan for something and stick to it I am causing the effect of getting what I want.

When we buy them things or give them special privileges when they are sad about something, we stop them from learning that feelings change over time. If they wait, they will feel better. Instead, comfort your children when they are sad, but let them learn to hang in there, plan some ways to feel better, and see that it makes sense to wait for better times ahead.

Read More

Teaching Kids to Wait – Part 1

Teaching Kids to Wait – Part 2

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson


 Surf the Internet:
  • self esteem
  • developmental tasks
  • overindulgence
  • grit
  • babies and crying
  • no-saying
  • logical consequences
  • natural consequences
  • delayed gratification

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