Teaching Children the Fine Art of Waiting Patiently

Flying home from a family vacation this summer, I sat behind a father with two young sons.  The youngest child was only about 2 or 2 ½ years old.  While the father tuned out by watching his DVD player with earphones and the older child took a nap, the youngest fussed and cried for over two hours. Sometimes I have to work hard to find the inspiration for one of these blog posts…but not this time.  I knew before the plane landed that this would be an excellent topic to write about!

I am not unsympathetic to that father’s plight.  I have traveled for hours in planes, trains, and automobiles with young children.  I have waited with wiggly toddlers and impatient preschoolers in line, in doctor’s offices, in airports, and at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Waiting happens, it is part of modern life.  And waiting patiently is an important life skill that we can help children learn.

As with everything else, we can teach children the most effectively when we provide a scaffold of support, one that gives children structure to help them learn, but doesn’t do it all for them.  I know that there are wonderful games on smartphones, but I’m thinking about teaching children the art of amusing themselves in more old fashioned ways.  Sometimes, after all, the batteries die.

Ideas for entertaining each other:

  1. Tried and true games: Peek-a-boo, I-Spy, 20 questions, counting something like cows, vw beetles, graveyards, etc.
  2. The wonderful, ancient art of storytelling.  Relax, this is an amateur art, you can’t do it “wrong.”  Favorite topics:
    1. old fairytales that you know by heart, extra points for funny voices for different characters;
    2. stories about when you were a child (especially the silly, naughty, crazy stories will be your biggest hits);
    3. Making up stories, alone and together, and even here the bar is low.  I was nudged by my daughter into keeping a story about “Cynthia the Dragon” going for years.  Her tale will never rank up there with “Winnie the Pooh,” but that wasn’t the point.  It was a private little story crafted personally for my daughter that followed her interests.
    4. A balloon is the cheapest fun you can ever have, so keep one or two in the car or in your bag.  It can be used by a toddler to squeeze and bop back and forth and by older children for quiet, slow volleyball type games.
    5. A piece of paper and a pen.  I probably don’t even have to tell you what to do with these, but in case you need some reminders: scribbling, drawing, fold it into a “cootie-catcher,” tic-tac-toe or hangman, etc.

All of these games and activities naturally transition into ideas a child learns to use to entertain him or herself.  The art of coming up with ideas to think about, games to play, and stories to imagine all provide ways for children to occupy and amuse themselves when they are in situations where there is nothing-to-do-but-wait.