When Do Kids Learn to Wait?


BABIES (6 mos. and younger) – best that they not “wait” or be left to “cry it out.” Babies need to cry long enough to clearly ask for help (more than just the first whimper) and then get a quick response to those cries.  This helps them put two and two together. “I cry and someone comes to help me. The world is an OK place where I can trust that people will take care for me.” This is how babies build trust.

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.
Often babies will make all sorts of noises that are not really cries for help. It is best to listen to make sure the baby doesn’t just readjust, find something interesting to look at, or fall back asleep. If parents 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, when they go to him, he will know his cry is being responded to. What a great world this is!
YOUNG KIDS (18 months to three-years-old) Waiting for something requires:
  • Knowing what you want and how much you want it
  • Planning for how to get it
  • Sticking to a plan to get it
Learning to wait for young kids begins when they start saying “no.” This is the sign that they know what they want. Next, they will need help learning to plan and sticking with the plan. They need to learn to trust themselves to stay on task and believe they will reach their goal eventually.
Parents, if you 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 instead of your way, which is challenging. When you are having to insist they do what you want them to do even while they are loudly complaining, you can remember that complaining means they are learning to wait, plan, and stick with their plans. 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 their goals.
It is important that we insist that young children do what is expected of them even when it is not what they want. 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 by using messages like:
  • “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.”
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.
TBD – To Be Continued
The March 7th blog includes  ideas about what you can do to help kids learn to wait.

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