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Teaching self-control: 6 ways to teach your child how to wait

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No one LIKES to wait! Inside every mature, patient, and rational person is an inner two-year-old screaming Me-Mine-Now - the primal panic of "not-enough" (not enough time, not enough understanding, not enough trust) that emotions can be safely managed, needs will be met and everything will be all right...eventually.

As it says in The Entitlement-Free Child, behind the entitlement-child's demands for Me-Mine-Now is anxiety:

  • If I don't get what I want now, it won't be there for me later.
  • If you get yours before me, you might take too much.
  • If I wait, it won't be the same or feel as good.
  • What if you have something I don't have?
  • What if what you have is better than what I have?

Toddlers and two-year-olds begin the long social-emotional journey of learning how to wait and how to trust. Waiting is learned by waiting. We discover slowly and surely through experience that people are dependable, the world is kind and generous, long term benefits often outweigh immediate gratification. When you realize waiting is worth it, that the risk is worth taking, you learn to wait.

Experience teaches through trial-and-error. Learning to wait begins in toddlerhood but the lessons continue long into adulthood, whenever we question whether something is truly worth waiting for.

How can we "teach" children how to wait? Here are 6 everyday tips (found them while essay writing on the same - funny, isn't it - doing your homework actually does teach you something) to build your child's "waiting" muscles:

  1. Recognize children's natural strengths to shift their focus - be it movement, music, language, or imagination. Pretend something is otherwise. Whistle, dance, tap a rhythm, tell a story!
  2. Help children to decide in advance what they can do while they are waiting (while you make a phone call or finish your emails) - color a picture, read a book, or play with their miniature cars.
  3. Create signals to slow down, pause, breathe. Panic pushes children into reaction mode. Gaining self-control starts with feeling calm and capable. At first, it's the adults who create a safe space to breathe and find that inner calm. In time, children learn what they need before emotions escalate.
  4. Be sure you always come back with "the marshmallow"! Be true to your word. Keep promises. Say what you mean and mean what you say so your child learns to trust that time will not sabotage, trick them or betray them.
  5. Play "time" games that help children do "something" when they are in-between activities. Here are a few transition game ideas from Pinterest.
  6. Stretch your child's waiting time by building on past successes. Toddlers can wait for snack while other children are served first, particularly if they've witnessed the routine and process before. Preschoolers can wait for a turn at a game or count down the days to the special birthday party.

Everyone can become a master of self control. It just takes time and patience!

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