Teaching Children Patience: 10 Ways to Support Kids During Wait Times

Teaching children patience can be a challenge. Try these 10 ideas for supporting kids during wait times.

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Whether it’s at home or at school – waiting is every kid’s worst nightmare.  Why?  Because for kids, it’s boring, it’s confusing, and it’s usually kind of abstract…which means that it almost inevitably comes along with behavior challenges.

For younger kids and kids with attention and behavior challenges, the best option is to minimize the amount of waiting kids have to experience by planning ahead.  For example, if we know that a child struggles with waiting for the next activity to begin at circle time, we can plan ahead to make sure that our transitions between activities are as quick and seamless as possible.

But…sometimes having to wait is unavoidable.  Whether you’re in the dentist’s waiting room or in the car in the drive-thru – waiting can be tough.  Try some of these strategies to support success (and sanity) during wait times!

10 Tips for Teaching Children Patience During Wait Times

Make waiting time a more concrete concept by trying some of the following strategies.

1 || Timers

Using timers is a great way to help kids understand how much time is left to wait.

Here are some of our favorites:

Mouse Timer App

Visual Countdown Timer App

Visual Timer

Kitchen Timer 

2 || Visual schedules and picture cues

Using pictures and icons in a simple visual schedule format can help show what is coming next, which can be essential to teaching children patience during waiting.  This can even be a simple board that with a “wait” icon and a “my turn” icon.  Place the “wait” icon on the board when other kids are taking their turns.  Place a “my turn” icon on the board to indicate to the child when they can take their turn.

3 || Put-in tasks

Try providing kids with a simple put-in task to give them something to do while they wait!  Sometimes simply keeping kids’ hands and minds busy is enough to take some of the worry out of wait times.

4 || Visual boundaries

For some kids, providing a visual boundary for where they should sit or stand while waiting can be helpful.

Here are some of our favorite ideas:

Shapes taped on the floor for kids to stand inside

Floor spots

Hula hoops

5 || Hallway Waiting Games

This pack of waiting games is perfect to use at school when kids have to wait in line to go to the bathroom, gym, or library.  They can also be packed in the car or a bag to use during outings from home.

6 || Fidget tools

Fidget tools are another great way to keep kids’ hands and minds busy while they wait!  Try these DIY Fidget tools!

7 || Seating options

Providing different seating options for wait times is not only fun and interesting – it’s a great way to provide sensory input for kids who need more movement to regulate themselves.

8 || Heavy work

Activities where kids are pushing and pulling against resistance are called heavy work activities.  These activities can have a calming and organizing effect for many kids and can be beneficial during wait times!

Try one of these:

Wall sits

Wall pushes

Chair dips

Crab balance (balance an object on your belly in a crab walk position)

9 || Social stories

Providing a social story about waiting can be another effective strategy for teaching children patience during wait times.  Social stories can include descriptions of when kids might have to wait, what behaviors are expected during wait times, and options for what they can do if they feel anxious, fidgety, or upset while they’re waiting.

10 || Self-regulation Games and Activities

If you’re working on teaching children patience during waiting, try some of these fun self-regulation games and activities.  Working on calming breathing techniques and guided meditation can also be helpful for helping kids during wait times.

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Claire Heffron is co-author at The Inspired Treehouse and a pediatric occupational therapist in a preschool/primary school setting. She began her career with a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism but quickly changed course to pursue graduate studies in occupational therapy. She has been practicing therapy for 10 years in public and specialized preschool/primary school settings. She is a mom to three funny, noisy boys and relies on yoga, good food, and time outside to bring her back to center.

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