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Positive Language Strategies: When It’s Hard to Wait

Telling a child to “be” a certain way often dismisses or rushes his or her emotional experience. It can also be frustrating for a child to hear that they “should” feel differently about a particular situation. When we acknowledge our children’s feelings without trying to “fix” them, we give them time and space to fully experience the tough stuff. This process helps children develop resilience, greater flexibility, coping skills, and problem-solving strategies.

Feel like you're constantly asking your child to be more patient? Give these strategies a try:

★ Use concrete events or actions to explain when your child will have his turn.
The concept of time is abstract. Children sometimes struggle while waiting because they wonder, “How long will I have to wait?” 

Instead of saying: “I’ll help you put on your shoes in 5 minutes” 

Try saying: “Today, I’m going to help your sister get dressed first. I’ll start by putting on her coat. Next, I’ll put on her shoes. Then, I can help you put on your shoes.”

★ Help your child identify strategies vs. relying on distractions.
In the midst of an emotional meltdown, it’s tempting to pass your child the nearest book or toy to keep him occupied. However, by helping our children identify specific coping strategies, we can involve them in the problem-solving process.

Instead of: immediately passing your child a book or a toy

Try saying: “While I’m helping your sister get dressed, you can get your shoes ready. You know how to open the velcro straps.” or “I’m happy to keep you company while you wait. Do you want to sit near me while I’m helping your sister get dressed?”

You can also try: “What would you like to do while you’re waiting?” If your child is unable/unwilling to respond, try offering two specific options to choose from. “While you’re waiting, you can read the new book we borrowed from the library or draw in your sketchbook.” 

★ Consider how much time your child spends “waiting” throughout the day.

Are your expectations appropriate for your child’s age and developmental stage? Are there shifts you can make in your daily routine to help your child wait less? Or better yet, maybe your child can take on some simple tasks- like helping himself to a self-serve snack cupboard, rather than waiting for you to prepare snacks throughout the day.

For more language support, check out our Guide to Positive Language Strategies. Whether you’re hoping to tackle challenging moments or enhance everyday conversations, you’ll find practical strategies to benefit the entire family.

About the Author
Lauren Vien taught in private Manhattan preschools for over a decade before joining the Rose & Rex team as Education Director. With a masters in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from NYU, Lauren is deeply passionate about positive language and developmental play. She lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two young children, Henry and Violet. Family pastimes include building with couch cushions, preparing plant-based meals, and scooting to neighborhood playgrounds.
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