If you’re the parent of a preschooler, you're familiar with the seemingly constant demands of your impatient child. Young children don’t quite understand how to recognize the needs of others or that waiting is an inevitable part of life – so patience is not one of their strongest virtues. As a child matures in age and development, however, her ability to display patience drastically improves. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to set your child on the right path towards becoming more patient. Here are the top five ways to get started:

  1. Take the Lead Young children are constantly learning by watching and listening to the people and things around them. Parents who are feeling the pressures of a busy schedule can often send signals of impatience that kids can, and will, pick up on. If you roll your eyes and drum your fingers on the shopping cart when the old lady in front of you pulls out a wad of coupons, for example, you’re sending the message to your youngster that being impatient is okay. “If waiting totally stresses you out, it's unfair to expect that you are teaching your child anything different than that,” says New York area childcare owner and consultant Trina Darling. “If you approach waiting as something positive in your life, you can teach your child that they can wait nicely, as well.” Instead of huffing and puffing at delays, take the time to chat with your young child, or help him practice counting objects or naming colors. Whether in the grocery line or in a traffic jam, there are always things to look at and learn from.
  2. Keep it Real “Remember to take little steps for little people” says Darling.” Expecting too much too soon can lead to feelings of inadequacy in a youngster. “What helps is to be aware of what is age-appropriate," adds New York area parenting speaker Kimberly Coleman. This will help you keep your expectations of your little one realistic. In addition, it helps to  remember that some kids are naturally more patient than others, so always deal with each child on an individual basis.   
  3. Wait for it When a preschooler sees something she likes in the toy store, she doesn’t want to wait until next week to get it: she wants it now! And, as most parents of preschoolers know, if you refuse to buy it, you’ll likely end up dragging her out of the store kicking and screaming. Delayed gratification is a concept a lot of adults struggle with, so imagine how difficult it is for a child to understand. Fortunately, with plenty of persistence, preschoolers can be taught to wait patiently for things they want. One way to accomplish this is to give your child an allowance and a piggy bank to help her save money to purchase those “special” items. Not only does this teach your child patience, it gives her a sense of independence and accomplishment – which is great for her self-esteem.  
  4. Read and Play A child’s ability to be patient can be nurtured with fun activities that encourage waiting. Reading books about patience is a good way to start familiarizing young kids with the concept. Some fantastic age-appropriate reading selections include Lucy’s Secret by Mireille Levert (Groundwood Books, 2004), It’s Taking Too Long: A Book About Patience by Cheryl Wagner (Time Life Medical, 1997), and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems (Hyperion Books for Children, 2008). Board games can also provide excellent practice in patience. When children play board games, they have to wait their turn to move the game pieces, pull cards and throw dice, so not only do these games enhance a child’s comprehension and listening skills, they require him to exercise patience. Some other activities that foster patience in kids are baking and gardening, as these activities require both short and long-term waits to get the desired results.
  5. Be Prepared Preschool-age children are not developmentally capable of sitting in one spot for prolonged periods of time without getting antsy. So if you’re going somewhere where a long wait is possible, such as a doctor’s visit, stuff a few small toys, books, crayons and blank pieces of paper into your bag to keep your little one occupied. Also, have plenty of healthy snacks on hand just in case you don’t make it home for mealtime, as young children are often impatient and difficult to deal with when they're hungry (just like grown-ups!).

There’s no doubt that it takes patience to teach patience to youngsters. But by setting realistic expectations, leading by example, teaching the value of delayed gratification, having fun, and preparing for long waits, you are setting the foundation for your child to grow into a more patient person for life!