What Toddlers Teach Us About Waiting

Family / Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Toddlers aren’t known for their stellar waiting skills, however, the same is often true of their parents as well.What toddlers teach us about waiting.

Let me tell you about a regular conversation with our 4 year old. This particular conversation was about water, but any subject could easily be inserted. We have this same conversation, every day, multiple times.

  • Him: Mom, can I have some water please? With ice
  • Me: I like the way you asked, I’m changing your sister’s diaper and then I’ll get you some water
  • Sigh. Mom, I need some water!
  • Let me throw this away and wash my hands so they’re clean to get water (at the kitchen sink by his cup)
  • Crying. Alligator tears. I need some water now!
  • I asked you to wait. What does wait mean?
  • [blank stare]
  • Wait means YES, but you have to wait a minute (I give him a hug)
  • Oh. Sniffle. Can I have some water now?
  • Here is your water. Please remember that next time, wait means yes. If we can’t learn to wait the answer might be no next time. It  takes me longer to get water when I’m trying to calm you down instead of getting water
  • OK mom.

After that conversation, you’d think the next time he needs something when my hands are being used to make dinner, vacuum, rock his sister, or… it wouldn’t go that way. Right?


This conversation repeats, with slight improvement depending on how soon it occurs after the last conversation. But day after day we have  the same conversation over something else. Maybe it’s a snack, some water, another snack, help with socks, yet another snack, finding a toy, or another snack (as you can see there are hangry tendencies in this house).

Why is it so hard for him us to wait?

Lessons learned from teaching toddlers to wait | thisgratefulmama.com #waiting #yield #waitwell #toddlerapproved #motherhood #parenting

Instant Gratification

Why is it so hard for me to wait? For you to wait? Perhaps because we’re out of practice; technology makes everything faster. Want to know something? The answer is at your fingertips. Gone are the days of finding an encyclopedia or dictionary, and here are instant searches on Google.

In general, lines are shorter and faster because the person at the end of the line has technology at their fingertips too. Or, skip the line altogether and check yourself out. We no longer call someone’s home answering machine and wait for them to get home to call back; we reach them wherever they are. This attitude of instant gratification makes traffic more unbearable, because there is no escape, even if we  weave back and forth between lanes.

Waiting is Hard

These conversations test MY patience as I wait for him to learn this lesson. See, waiting is hard! It isn’t fun when he is upset. Plus requests for basic needs like food or water are things I won’t be withholding for long (well, unless it’s a request for candy). The problem is, being impatient with him doesn’t teach him to wait. It does the exact opposite. So, I’m expectantly waiting on the day, trying to be patient, when this waiting lesson will click.

If we can’t help him handle the little stuff to which the answer is yes-but-wait, how can we teach them to wait for the things that aren’t as easy? As adults, we often wait for things that take longer, and may not have a YES answer at the end. We wait for prayers to be answered for the hard stuff – pregnancies, test results, healing, raises, and job interviews. We wait for answers we may not even want to hear, but we wait nonetheless.

Truth is, children and adults all need practice waiting on the easy stuff so when serious moments come, we are able to wait with grace, and hopefully without driving our families crazy. Even though I feel like a broken record, persistence in teaching waiting continues. This lesson must be learned so he can be a functioning, patient adult. So even though I know we’ll have yet another conversation on waiting today, and tomorrow, I need to be patient with him and go through it again. He needs practice at mastering the short wait, for something trivial he knows he’ll get in the end.

Kids Learn By Example

For full disclosure, this waiting thing doesn’t always look as it should on me either. He hears me sighing as I hit those brakes in the car. And he sees me check the clock on my phone as we are waiting in line at Target (for all of five…whole…minutes). I’m not always good at waiting either. Waiting is not the norm. It isn’t expected that the line will be long when I had just enough time to run in and out. It isn’t expected that traffic will back up long after rush hour ended. Instead of accepting that the wait is just a delay, not an end to my plans, I too, often sigh and complain, in a rush.

And what does rushing things do? Usually nothing good. If our son is impatient, I tend to make him wait longer, or change my answer to no. Trying to rush things as adults often yields similar results and often, if we had just waited patiently, things would have gone a lot smoother.

I need to work on my patience in waiting if I want to demonstrate and instill this skill in our son. No more sighing in traffic or acting annoyed in lines. These are trivial in the big picture and if I can’t master these, how can I demonstrate waiting in the big issues?

So we’ll focus on helping him with the yes-but-wait things for now. The bigger, more difficult waits will come with time.

Learning to Yield

My son is into traffic signs and wants to know what they mean. He asks me all kinds of questions while we are driving and usually knows when it is our turn to go. This week, we talked about the Yield sign and how even though there is no stop sign or stop light at the roundabouts by our house, we yield to those in the roundabout before entering it.

Waiting is kind of like yielding to traffic. Your turn, your answer, your result will come. You may have to wait for longer than you’d like to, but in the end, you always get to go, even if it isn’t in the direction you’d hoped. A wait is a delay to an outcome, but there will be one. While it isn’t true that all of life’s waits end with the answer YES, they do usually yield an answer.

It is time to stop being impatient with the timeline, and to stop trying to rush this very important lesson. I need to wait for my son to learn to wait. We will prepare him for the tough waits. We will keep teaching our son (and soon our daughter) that the answer to much of life’s waiting is YES.

It just means we have to wait for it…

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