Teaching Patience and Waiting


Interrupting is a very normal stage in child development.

Being able to teach your child how to get your attention in a matter that is respectful and age appropriate takes some time. There will be learning from both parents and children during this time. But with practice and patience you can teach your preschooler to “wait their turn” and interrupt less often.

Interrupting defined

Interrupting is stopping the momentum of an activity, such as a preschooler interrupting their parents during a work call. It is common for preschoolers to interrupt their parents or a trusted adult, such as their teacher. Children often approach adults for:

  • information or answers to their questions
  • a need, such as hunger
  • help
  • when they have something to share
  • your attention

Interruption only becomes a problem when parents are busy, or parents can’t help children with their needs at that moment.

Teaching your child to say, “excuse me” and then wait to get the attention of whom they are talking to is a skill that needs to be taught patiently. You can start by giving your preschooler opportunities to practice not interrupting by learning to wait for short periods of time. Some opportunities to practice waiting might be: When your child asks for a snack, getting out the door, when you are attending to a sibling, writing an email, texting a friend, etc.

Tell your child that you are going to make an important phone call. Follow with: "Is there anything you need from me right now?" Then make a plan for what your child will be doing when you are on the phone, such as playing with soft dough, looking at books, or coloring.

Your best defense against interruptions is usually some form of entertainment. Give yourself a few minutes to help your child choose and set up the activity they want to play.

Children interrupt because they feel that what they need or want to say is very important and to the child it is very important. It is difficult for children to know when they can and can’t interrupt. They have not learned those social skills yet. Many children want to speak right away because, if they don’t, they might forget what they were thinking about. Having your child wait to speak until it is their turn is a great tool to use to help your children wait. When it is their turn and they can’t remember what they were saying, then you can remind them that as soon as they remember they can let everyone know.

Sometimes, parents might expect their preschooler to wait for a long time before they can give them back their attention. Parents might be on a call, working, or concentrating on something very important. If children do not get attention when they interrupt politely, they may learn to interrupt loudly and rudely. Remember to set realistic expectations for you and your child.

Preschoolers can:

  • Play quietly for short periods of time.
  • Can learn 2 or 3 rules to follow regarding interrupting.

Don’t expect:

  • Preschoolers to play independently for over 30 minutes.

Talking on the phone for an hour might not be a realistic expectation at this stage in your child’s development. Talking on the phone for 15 minutes is a realistic expectation that your preschooler can handle.

Always be prepared to answer your child right away when they are hurt or feeling unwell.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Kalina Glover-Moresi. Parenting Now offers parenting groups and drop-in programs for families with children 0-8, and is passionate about fostering happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org

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