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Teaching patience in children is about more than making road trips go more smoothly; it’s also one of the most important skills your child can learn while he or she is young. Patience is one of the first steps to learning delayed gratification, which contributes not only to career success, but also health, relationships, and more.

Teaching children to be patient can seem enigmatic, but there are often multiple times a day where you can reinforce patience with your children!

Teaching Patience in Children

Research has shown that patience is more of a muscle than a skill. In children, it takes practice as well as plenty of positive reinforcement.

Below are some of our top tips for teaching patience to children.

1 – Make it a Positive Experience

When your child is young, it’s hard for them to conceptualize the need for or benefits of patience. Not only is their concept of time not quite developed, but neither is their sense of delayed gratification.

When you set a timeframe for something (when they get a snack, when you’ll arrive at your destination, etc.), they’re going to ask if it’s time yet…frequently. Stay patient, kind, and positive when they ask, even if it’s for the twentieth time. Remember, they’re not trying to be selfish or mean spirited in their questions—they simply don’t have the capability to conceptualize time yet.

Snapping at your child or otherwise punishing them for asking too many times will reinforce the idea that waiting is a negative experience. However, staying calm and positive while they wait reinforces that waiting can be a positive experience.

2 – Let Them Experience the Wait

It can be a negative habit to use a screen or other mindless distraction to bridge the gap between now and a future event. When your child is playing a game on a screen or watching a show, he or she isn’t experiencing time the same way that he or she would be if they needed to be more present.

Instead, find different ways to help the time pass in a more productive, engaging way. Allow your child to feel time passing while still having a positive experience through it.

3 – Keep Your Promises

We’re sure we’re not the only parents who’ve ever promised a child something in the near or distant future only to hope if we wait long enough that they’ll get distracted and forget about it.

This habit, however, not only prevents your child from properly developing an accurate sense of time, but also makes the wait seem longer than it would normally be. This, unfortunately, creates a mindset in your child that if he or she has to wait five minute or ten minutes that it will actually take “ages,” because that’s what they’ve experienced in the past. Be accurate and keep your promises when your child asks how long.

4 – Give Them Information

Instead of answering your child’s repetitive “are we there yet?” questions with a barking ”Soon!” or “We’ll get there when we get there!” answer with information. If you know about how long it will take, provide the number of hours or minutes to your child. If he or she doesn’t quite understand the concept of time, use something relatable to help them distinguish. For example, “Christmas is 12 sleeps away.” Or “The theme park is about one movie long away.” Or “It will take us about as long to get to Grandma’s house as it takes to finish one of your school days at Kids Village.”

Find creative ways to adjust your measurements to help bring numbers and time increments into relatable terms for your child.

5 – Have a Countdown or Visual Representation

If you find you tend to lose your patience when you’re asking your child to be patient (ironic, we know), then use visual tools to help minimize the questions. For instance, have a countdown timer visible. During long road trips, take this ideafrom Grey House Harbor and use a visual map on the ceiling with a car that you move every hour or so closer to the “destination.”

How do you teach your children patience?

Do you have any tactics we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below!

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