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Parenting

Ask Sarah: How to learn patience, even as a toddler

Can little kids ever learn to wait patiently? Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet on how to handle your toddler's right-now mentality.

Ask Sarah: How to learn patience, even as a toddler

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.

Have a question for Sarah? Send us an email at editors@todaysparent.com.

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

Mom wiping the kitchen table while baby daughter pulls on her for attention

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

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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 you 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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Need support with other parenting challenges? Our Ask Sarah series covers topics like how to survive without routine, how to reduce bedtime struggles and how to prepare for playdates.

Author: Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15- and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched. Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!” Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!
This article was originally published on Mar 01, 2023

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