We live in a now society. Everything is about speed and busyness. People want things yesterday. With technology, we can literally wish for something, order it and have it in our hands the next day without ever leaving our living room or interacting with another human being. You can even find out if you’re having a boy or a girl before you give birth. It can be easy to forget that we need to teach kids the art of waiting.
Nowadays, you hardly even hear “are we there yet?” with kids plugged into electronic devices in the vehicle taking the ‘pain’ out of long road trips.
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I’ve noticed that even I am becoming more and more impatient and it has led me to wonder if all of this instant gratification, instant downloads and instant entertainment is hampering our ability to wait. Just because we can give things to our kids now doesn’t mean that we should.
Waiting is an important social skill and just like any other skill, it needs to be practised in order for there to be improvement in it.
There are times in life where waiting is inevitable, whether it be in small situations such as a traffic jam or in life changing situations. When we had to wait three years during our most recent adoption from the time we began the process to the time we brought our kids home from Ethiopia, waiting was painful. It was long and it was frustrating and at times, it was discouraging. But there were things to be learned in the waiting.
I had to rely on God more, pray more, let go more. I leaned on friends and family more. I became more empathetic and aware of other situations in life where people have to wait and what that feels like. I focused on using my wait wisely, on preparing.
There are so things our kids will encounter in their lives especially as adults where waiting is hard: waiting for “Mr. or Mrs. Right”, waiting for their wedding day, waiting on the doctor for test results, waiting for a positive pregnancy test, waiting for a baby to be born or for an adoption to be complete, saving months or years for the down payment on their first home, sitting by the phone waiting for word on a loved one. If our kids don’t learn any skills to help them cope with waiting, they will not be well equipped for it when it comes.
Yes, I take steps and make efforts to make waiting in waiting rooms less painful for my kids (and therefore, for myself). Yes, I sometimes give them what they are asking for right when they ask (and always when it comes to food). But I also try to find opportunities for my kids to practise waiting.
Teaching Kids the Art of Waiting:
- Have them save up for something they want. When our child really wants something, it can be tempting to loan them the money they need and have them pay us back later but this sends the message that you can have what you want without having the money yet and sets them up for credit card debt as adults. Teaching them to save their money towards a large purchase will not only help them learn to wait, it will also teach them valuable lessons about money and budgeting.
- Teach them not to interrupt. Learning to wait for their turn to speak is another aspect of waiting. You can achieve this by teaching them to gently place their hand on your arm when you are speaking to someone to let you know that they have something to say and when you are finished, you can turn to them and give them your full attention.
- Turn waiting into a game. When we are somewhere we have to wait such as a restaurant waiting for food or the doctor’s office waiting to be called, we all guess how many minutes or seconds it will be and the closest one to the actual time without going over wins.
- Teach kids to play independently. Using puzzles, simple art activities, books, or busy bags, teach kids to play independently so that they will be able to entertain themselves without the use of electronics. Give them time to stretch the muscles of their imagination.Give kids time to stretch the muscles of their imagination.
- Give them opportunities to practise waiting. Don’t jump up as soon as your child tells you they are bored or asks you for something. Give them the chance to learn how to distract themselves.
- Work up to longer waits. Start small and well within your child’s ability level and work your way up. Keep in mind any sensory considerations.
- Explain to them the importance of delayed gratification and self-control. They not only need to develop the skills. They also need to understand the reason for them.
- Cut back on technology. Technology offers the opposite of waiting. Everything is literally at your fingertips. The instant feedback for doing well in a video game, the instant response from a friend texting back, any kind of entertainment at the push of a button…I’m not saying to throw out technology. I’m simply suggesting maybe scaling back or even delaying it. If you are in a waiting room, wait for 5 or 10 minutes before handing your tablet or smart phone to your child. When they get home from school, have them wait until their chores are complete, they’ve told you 3 things about their day, they’ve spent 15 or 20 minutes in the fresh air, and they’ve interacted with siblings before they sit down in front of a screen.
- Model patience. If your child sees you patiently waiting or delaying your own gratification whether it be for entertainment or for things, they will be able to learn skills that they can apply to their own lives.
Please note that food should not be something that children have to wait for. When their bodies tell them that they are hungry or thirsty, they should be listening to their bodies. This applies particularly to children who’ve come from hard places.
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