Learning to Wait

Waiting is in our everyday life - waiting for the green light, barista passing over a hot flat white, Black Friday timer countdown… Admit it - Waiting is hard, even for us adults. For young children or children with additional needs, it can be even harder to understand.

There are a few reasons that make “Waiting” extra difficult for children, for example, time is a very abstract concept. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes. What does “5 minutes” even mean to them? One cocomelon song? One Spider-Man movie? It’s hard to tell!

How to teach children to wait?

There are many formats of waiting. Let’s start with the one with the most enquiries - “Waiting for food”.

First thing first, remember: Do not start the training when the child is too hungry or too full. We want our children to succeed, therefore, we want to create a chance when the child is hungry enough to have enough desire for the snack, but full enough to not to be imitable.

Materials we need:
  1. Visual timer

    Credits: PiTimer from app store

    (How and why using visual timer https://www.cdchk.org/parent-tips/visual-timers/

    We would suggest parents to install a countdown clock on their electronic devices, as it is portable and, hence, easily applied anywhere.

  2. Wait card

After getting the above materials prepared on the table, the next step is to identify a desired snack. If your child likes to eat Oreos, you can divide one Oreo into pieces as you do not want the child to just finish the whole piece in one go. Repeated practice is essential.

Next, you can put the Oreo piece on the table. It is expected and understandable that your child would reach out to grab it instantly. Before they do so, you can gently hold their hands down.

Start off with a short waiting time to set your child up for success. Some children may be successful starting at 5 seconds, others may have to begin at 1 second. Give the instruction ‘Wait’ clearly, with the use of a hand gesture (one palm up). Pass the wait card into the child’s hand and start the timer.

Once the timer beeps, give a clear statement ‘finish’. Indicate to your child to pass you the wait card, and prompt them to reach for the Oreo themselves.

It is common to see children passing back the wait card way before the timer beeps, as they may misunderstand that simply passing the card will lead to Oreo, without acknowledging the timer. In this situation, same with when they try to grab the snack, gently intercept their passing action, and only take the card after the timer beeps. With repeated practice, children will slowly understand your expectations.

After the child is able to reliably wait for the given time, you can begin to increase the amount of time the child needs to wait. The timer should be faded as soon as possible so the child is learning to wait upon the instruction to wait rather than by relying on the timer. Remember the expectation for the time the child is asked to wait should be age appropriate.

Learning to wait is a very big topic in life. We hope that you will find the above tips useful!