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The Art Of Waiting: Teaching Toddlers How To Wait

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Aug 30, 2022

The Art Of Waiting: Teaching Toddlers How To Wait

You’ve probably seen videos of inconsolable toddlers at bus terminals, cars, and even in flights. Crying and kicking sometimes become the child’s response to waiting for a long time, and experts say it happens because they still cannot regulate their emotions. How do you make waiting less arduous for toddlers? What can parents do to help impatient children? Find out here. 

The Three-Minute Test: How to Make Waiting Less Arduous For Toddlers

To a degree, it’s not fair to call toddlers “impatient children.” It’s just that they are not yet emotionally ready to wait. For them, the few minutes their parents take to talk to someone or send an email is already a challenge. 

So researchers tried to see how they can help toddlers distract themselves. The study involved 96 toddlers and their parents, and it went like this:

  • The investigators asked the toddlers to wait for three minutes for a small gift or candy. 
  • The reward was in sight but out of reach. 
  • Parents were asked to have as little involvement as possible. 
  • There were two things available at the child’s disposal: stacking cups and toy lawn mower. 
  • The researchers noted that toddlers tend to gravitate toward the toy that matches their temperament (as reported by their parents). Hence, calm kids played with the stacking cups; the more active children played with the lawn mower. When the three minutes were up, the toddlers received their reward

    Adults Showing What to Do Might Also Help

    In the second part of the study, the researchers tried to find out how to best help impatient children distract themselves to regulate their emotions. 

    The toddlers were divided into two groups: one group had a stranger show them how to play activities while waiting, the other group received no intervention. 

    In the end, the investigators noted that toddlers who witnessed adult strangers playing distracted themselves more than those in the control group. 

    Additional Ways to Make Waiting Less Arduous For Toddlers

    Considering the results of the study, we can say that the following might help impatient children regulate their emotions while waiting:

    • Give them toys that match their temperament
    • Use engaging activities to keep them busy while waiting

    But, what other ways can parents do to help their children stay calm while waiting?

    1. Help them visualize how long exactly they have to wait

    First, let your child know how long they have to wait. However, remember that 5 minutes, 30 minutes, and 1 hour are usually abstract concepts for them. Help them feel and visualize it. Perhaps, show them a clock and let them know they have to wait until the bigger hand is on this or that number. 

    2. Train your child

    Do you expect long waiting times in the near future? If so, it’s best to “train” impatient children as early as possible. 

    Ask them to wait for a few minutes to start, then gradually increase it to 10 minutes, 15, 30, then an hour. This way, when it’s time for them to wait long periods, they will already be familiar with the concept of waiting. 

    3. Be prepared

    Setting their expectations is important, but so is being prepared. For impatient children, bring toys, activity kits, or snacks. Remember that hunger can make them more irritable!

    4. Empathize

    Once again, please remember that toddlers are not getting annoyed intentionally. They just can’t regulate their emotions well at this age. So, empathize with them and validate their feelings. Tell them it’s okay to feel sad or frustrated because they have to wait. Teach them to name what they are feeling and express it through words. 

    5. Stay true and praise them

    If you said they have to wait for 30 minutes, try to keep your word. If something else comes up, let them know they might have to wait a bit more and why (again, be specific). 

    Finally, praise them for waiting. This will motivate them to continue doing their good waiting behavior. 

    Key Takeaways

    How to make waiting less arduous for impatient children? Set their expectations, help them feel and visualize how long they have to wait, be prepared, empathize, and praise them. A little training also helps.

    Learn more about Parenting here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Aug 30, 2022

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