Ask Sarah: How to Teach Patience

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

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Q: Our daughter is almost 3, and we want to know how to teach patience.

For instance, my partner and I are still eating dinner or having a moment to chat and my toddler is tugging on one of our shirts, repeating “Come here!” When we say something like, “two more minutes please, mama and dada are talking and then we will come with you,” a meltdown ensues.

We don’t want her to think that we don’t care, so what should we do when we are talking or need a few minutes? 

-Christine, mom of a 3 year old

A: You might not like this answer, so I’m sorry in advance. Your daughter just doesn’t have the capacity for patience yet.

The impulsive, feeling-driven part of her brain that is activated when she’s excited or upset is what needs your attention ‘right now!’ The part of her brain that has perspective, ‘I can wait until my parents are done talking. It’s not an emergency,’ is just not as well-developed and doesn’t stay in charge while she’s upset or excited. As she grows and her brain matures, impulse control—“I can wait even if I’m upset or excited”—becomes possible. 

I’d keep your discussions short and limited to what’s necessary when she’s around. This doesn’t mean that you have to bend to her every whim. I would remind yourselves that she’s doing the best she can and it’s so hard to wait.

Empathize: “It’s so hard to wait! We’re almost done.” Ask her to hold your hand until you’re done so she knows you are there and haven’t forgotten about her.

If it’s really unavoidable that you can’t do what she needs right then, it’s okay if she cries. You can think of it as a chance to show up with compassion while she offloads some tension and big feelings and starts to build some emotional resilience. This is a moment in time and it won’t last forever.

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