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How to Teach Patience in the Classroom

Learn strategies for teaching patience to preschool children.

How to Teach Patience in the Classroom

How to Teach Patience in the Classroom

Patience is an important life skill that helps children learn to cope with stress, regulate emotions, and handle challenging situations. As an educator or someone who works with young children, it’s essential to teach patience as part of their social and emotional development. 

There are many age-appropriate ways to teach and practice this skill. Consider playing games, role-playing, selecting related read-alouds, and modeling the behavior you want them to demonstrate.

Read on to learn more about patience, self-control, active listening, and how to teach children to wait their turn in the classroom. 

What causes impatience?

Preschool-age children are naturally impulsive and have a limited capacity for waiting. 

Impatience can look like this:

  • Answering questions in class without waiting to be called on 
  • Interrupting conversations instead of waiting for the other person to finish speaking
  • Racing to the front of the line to play a fun activity instead of going to the end of the line
  • Grabbing toys from their peers instead of asking and waiting for permission to use them

This isn’t always done intentionally. Sometimes preschoolers cannot resist the urge to take what they want immediately instead of waiting. 

A preschooler’s lack of executive functioning skills such as working memory, inhibition control, and cognitive flexibility often contribute to their impatience. These skills begin to develop around 6 months old but aren’t fully developed in some individuals until they’re 25 years old. That explains why a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old is often impatient—their executive functioning skills are immature.

With this in mind, know that it may take time for preschoolers to demonstrate the skills they’re learning. However, with consistent guidance and positive reinforcement, you can help instill patience in them. 

How to teach self-control

Learning self-control is an essential part of children’s overall development. It helps them manage their impulses, make better decisions, and achieve their goals. 

Here are some strategies for teaching self-control in your classroom. 

Model self-control

Preschoolers learn a lot by observing the behaviors of adults around them. As a role model, it’s crucial to demonstrate self-control. This means controlling your impulses and handling your frustration and anger calmly. While you might not often have moments when you have to practice self-control at work, you can take advantage of these opportunities when they occur. If a child fails to comply with your instruction, think aloud about how you’re using self-control to remain calm and show understanding in that situation. 

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness requires you to pay attention to the present moment. Practicing this can help children become more aware of their thoughts and emotions while learning self-regulation. When they have strong feelings, remind them to tap into mindfulness practices like taking deep breaths and focusing on the present moment until they feel calm.

Teach delayed gratification

Practicing delayed gratification allows children to work on self-control and patience. For example, If you’re doing something and a child calls you for help, let them wait a few minutes until you finish your tasks. 

Set clear expectations

Children respond well to clear expectations and consistency. Share how they should react in situations where they must practice self-control and encourage that behavior with positive reinforcement. You also want to establish consequences for demonstrating unacceptable behavior. Be consistent with your positive reinforcement and consequences. Also, communicate in clear, simple sentences about expectations with phrases like, “Walk inside.” “When I’m reading, you’re quiet.” “Put your blocks away when you finish playing.” 


Lacking self-control often comes into play when children don’t know how to get what they want (or get out of what they don’t want). Practicing problem-solving skills will help them think about different solutions, which can lead to better control of their impulses. 

Use reflective listening

Young children might not have the words to describe their feelings when waiting, so you can teach them reflective listening. While they are waiting their turn to play a game, you might say, “I know it’s hard to wait, and you want to play now. You’re doing a great job showing self-control and should be proud of yourself.”

Teaching self-control to preschool children requires patience and consistency. You can help them develop this important skill by implementing the above practices and others.

Incorporate lessons about patience into your curriculum easily with brightwheel's lesson plan feature. Save time and stay organized by customizing lesson plans to fit your children’s needs, logging observations, and sharing progress with families, all in one centralized platform.

Activities to teach waiting

Waiting and patience go hand in hand. Since children are naturally curious and impulsive, teaching them to wait might take some time, but this skill will be crucial for them to master as they continue to develop and interact with others. Here are some activities you can use to teach your preschoolers how to wait. 

Play games

Some games are perfect for teaching children to wait. For example, playing a game of “Red Light, Green Light” or “Simon Says” allows them to practice listening for directions and waiting for their turn. 

Use a sand timer

When children play a game or do an activity together, use a sand timer to indicate when it’s time to switch players. For example, if a child is playing with a toy car, they can continue to play with it until the sand timer runs out. Then they have to pass it to another child. The sand timer is just one example of a visual aid you can use. Feel free to experiment with other timers as well. 

Teach empathy

When children understand that sometimes they have to wait and consider other people’s feelings and needs, it can make it easier for them to do so. For example, if a child likes to rush to the front of the line instead of getting behind others, share why this behavior is not okay. You can discuss how other children in the line also want to enjoy whatever you’re about to do, and they’re just as excited. Explain how the other children will feel if the child jumps in front of them, making them wait even longer.

Increase wait time

Practice having your children wait for longer periods of time. You might start by making them wait 30 seconds to eat their snack after it’s in front of them. Then gradually increase the time until they have to wait several minutes. This practice can help make waiting more achievable. 

Teach distraction techniques

Distraction techniques can help children pass the time while waiting for their turn. Give them several ideas, such as playing with a sensory toy, looking at a book, or singing an interactive song like The Itsy-Bitsy Spider. You can model how to use these distraction techniques for them when you have to wait. 

How to practice active listening

Active listening is another crucial skill for preschoolers to learn because it helps children develop social and emotional intelligence, improve their ability to learn and understand others, and foster positive relationships with peers and adults. 

As you’re teaching patience, have your children practice active listening techniques to make it easier for them to understand the lessons. 

Use body language

Body language is a significant part of active listening. You can model how their bodies should look while listening, including making eye contact, facing the speaker, and nodding their head. When other adults or peers are talking, encourage them to practice using active listening body language. 

Encourage questions

Asking questions about what someone says is a straightforward way to indicate that you’re listening. Encourage your preschoolers to ask questions to clarify their understanding of what someone has said. This can improve engagement in conversation as well.

Practice listening activities

There are many activities for children that allow them to practice their listening skills. You can play games like “Simon Says,” “I Spy,” or “Telephone,” where the children have to listen carefully to follow directions. This can help them practice listening skills in a fun and engaging way. 

Teaching patience to preschoolers takes time

Helping preschoolers develop this vital life skill can equip them for future success in all areas of their lives. With patience, children can learn to persevere through challenges, handle stress and frustration in productive ways, and build positive relationships with others. By implementing the strategies in this article, you can help your children develop the patience they need to thrive.

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