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Why should we teach our children to wait?

By Dina Whelan, Senior Occupational Therapist

Today life is fast and instant. Technology has changed the way we do and expect things. We can order an array of things from our home and have them delivered often within 24 hours. We don’t even have to wait for a latest release to go to the movies; instead we can download it and there it is. We can take a photo, delete and take another if we don’t like it. Not having to wait for the camera film to be finished and developed with baited breath hoping that there is a nice one among the 24 photos taken. Instant gratification is great isn’t it?  So this leads to the question ‘is waiting important’? 

Well, yes and we should be teaching our children to wait and here is why. Life isn’t about instant gratification. Some of the best things in life can’t be instantly received. Waiting is important in life and there are times this is inevitable. We have to wait to meet our ‘perfect partner’, we have to wait to have children (for some people this takes years but at a minimum 9 months), we have to work our way up to the best job (we can’t leave school and expect to be CEO), we have to earn our place on a sports team and we have to wait for test results from Doctors. We even have to wait to cross the road safely! If we don’t know how to wait then the times mentioned here could be very traumatic, dangerous and stressful.

So how can we teach our children to wait?

  1. Model it whenever you can. At dinner time don’t answer or check the phone, give the people with you your full attention. Talk about your day.
  2. Give your child pocket money and let them save up for something really special. Just because you can give it to them straight away doesn’t mean you should. Delayed gratification has numerous benefits. It also teaches important skills around money.
  3. Use visuals, count down the days on a calendar until an important event, give a card with the word wait on it to a young child to hold while they wait their turn in a game (this helps them realise their turn will come).
  4. Play games such as Musical Statues, Simon Says, What’s The Time Mr Wolf and The Floor is Lava. This involves an element of listening and controlling their responses.
  5. When waiting at the places like the Dr’s surgery don’t pull out the phone for entertainment. My children and I like to play an eye spy game where we have to find items in the surgery that start with each of the letters from the alphabet.
  6. Keep technology to a minimum when you go out to eat. This will also help develop skills in the art of conversation and waiting your turn to speak.
  7. Have regular meal and snack times. Children will often eat when bored, so instead say “we will be having dinner in half an hour how about you do…… until it is ready”. Who knows this may even encourage them to eat all their dinner! But please know I am not suggesting you starve them.
  8. When waiting for a turn in a playground practice mindfulness- talk with your child about the environment around them and help them use their senses, what can they hear, see, touch or smell? “Can you make shapes out of the clouds”? Practicing the art of mindfulness will provide strategies for dealing with stress in the future and provide awareness of how the body feels.

There are amazing things that happen in times of waiting, we can get lost in our own thoughts (in doing this we can learn a lot about ourselves), we find ways to distract ourselves, we learn resilience when we have to work for something, we learn to plan and prepare for different things, we experience an excitement that we don’t get from instant gratification.

Most importantly when we are waiting, we learn about what makes us happy and we don’t need to rely on a virtual friend to like our photo to feel approval and valued. So, teach your child about waiting and many lifelong benefits will follow.

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