Babies and young children have very little capacity for patience, sincethey are naturally focused on meeting their needs at the exact momentthey experience them. A toddler has no concept of time-past or future-sotelling him that "Dinner will be ready in five minutes" or "Be patient"is meaningless. The best way to help toddlers wait is simply to distractthem with a toy or other interesting objects, or do something fun topass the time, like count or sing songs. Parents can begin to help oldertoddlers grasp the concept of time by talking about the sequence ofactivities-"First we'll go to the park, then we'll have lunch, then itwill be time to play with Justin."
While preschoolers are less oppositional than two-year-olds, they stillare oriented toward immediate gratification and have difficultyconceptualizing future events. A preschooler who is told that she'svisiting Grandma next Tuesday may wait a few hours and then ask, "Are weleaving now?" Checking off days on a calendar will make time moreconcrete. In addition, preschoolers' increasing verbal skills help themmanage their emotions. A parent can empathize, saying, "I know how hardit is to wait," and then help the child come up with things to do in themeantime.
Long waits can trigger a tantrum, particularly if a child is hungry ortired. Her natural proclivity for fantasy play, however, can work to aparent's advantage: Imaginary scenarios ("We're going on a campingtrip.let's think of what to pack") can capture her interest and take hermind off her frustration.
When children reach school age, they often begin to show increasedpatience. Two major factors are at work. First, kids this age arelearning to tell and understand time; and second, they are beginning tobe able to delay gratification. A six-year-old waiting on line atDisneyWorld, for example, may calmly distract himself by chatting withparents or friends. He may be able to monitor the time on a watch, whichgives him a sense of control.
At school, kids are starting to show perseverance in their ability toconcentrate and complete a classroom assignment. However, many are stilldistractible and fidgety when asked to sit still too long, which is onereason why lengthy homework assignments are not recommended.
In the later elementary grades, most kids are developmentally able to bepatient. They understand time and can accept the notion of waiting for afuture reward. They are also better at taking other people'sperspectives. For example, an eight-year-old can understand that herparents may have to walk slowly so her two-year-old sister can catch up.
At school, kids this age have a greater attention span and are capableof focusing and concentrating for a longer period of time. Anine-year-old can usually sit through several classmates' presentationsbefore he gets his turn to read his book report.
Preteens typically revisit some of the issues they wrestled with astwo-year-olds. They seek to establish their independence from theirparents, and are largely focused on meeting their own needs and wants.They can be oppositional and demanding, demonstrating less patience thanthey did a few years earlier.
However, they may demonstrate great patience and perseverance if they'reengaged in something that's very important to them. A preteen who nearlywrithes on the floor because her mother is tying up the phone line mayspend hours practicing her guitar.
Young teens and preteens are similar in their tendency towardimpatience--unless the task or activity is very important to them. Asthey move toward adulthood, however, they gradually accept waiting as apart of life - whether it's waiting for traffic to clear at anintersection or waiting for graduation day. They may also begin torealize that to reach a goal, you must be patient. Studying requiresperseverence. Jobs, promotions, and pay raises don't happeninstantaneously but have to be earned them over time.
It's important to remember, however, that patience is temperamental aswell as developmental. Some people are naturally patient; others willstruggle with it throughout their lives.