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How to improve your child’s patience

by Ines Wurbs

Patience is not innate in us. It doesn’t develop until the age of two. During this time, the first complex emotions arise. Patience is one of them. Before we can practice patience, we must learn various prerequisites for regulating our needs. Emotional self-regulation brings our feelings to a level that seems appropriate to us in a specific situation. Children actually start doing this from the age of two. They are happy because they see grandpa, but they can also finish something quickly or wait at mum’s hand. They are annoyed because their tower falls over and do not immediately succumb to unbridled rage. (However, this only succeeds at an older age).

The defiance phase takes its course

It is precisely this age that many refer to as the defiance phase. Our kids can do a lot now. Countless things they can do autonomic. That’s why they want to do many activities on their own and get grumpy when we try to help them. Unfortunately, they haven’t succeeded in all the capabilities yet.

Many small frustrations lead to a tantrum. Controlling one’s emotions only begins at this age and takes time. This is a complex process that, among other things, is learned by our children through trial and error.

It takes about two years for the basic structure of self-regulation to develop. However, even then, it still hasn’t reached its end. We learn how to control our emotions in particular until around the age of 6.

What age do children develope pacientce?

We first learn from our parents how to regulate our emotions and how to deal with them properly. A Pub Med Central study shows that an early good mother-child relationship is crucial. A good and secure attachment to the mother enables our children to socialize more quickly and effectively. Children learn earlier and more sensitively how to deal with others. With strangers, but first with the most important caregivers, i.e. mom and dad. With a secure bond, our children dare to try out more and gain more experience in dealing with others and with their entire environment. They gain more experience, especially more positive experiences. Appropriate and important social interactions are also more often rewarded by us parents. This also means that children with secure attachments are more likely to be encouraged in their behavior.

Of course, it is also us parents who are role models for our children. They observe how we react in different situations. They draw conclusions, ask questions, and finally imitate us.

The temperament of our children also plays a major role. Here too, of course, we praise our children more often when they do what we expect of them. This in turn means that our children behave in this way more often because they have had positive experiences with it. If we reward emotional self-regulation more often, they learn it much faster than children who we perceive as “not well-behaved”. Children with difficult temperaments are often insecure or ambivalently attached to their parents. This creates a negative cycle. You can see in the figure below that one building block influences the next. This applies in both, a positive and a negative sense. Attachment temper cycle

This paper shows that emotional self-regulation is also critical at school.

5 Tips for teaching self-regulation and patience

Now you know some background on patience. But of course, the most important thing is everyday life. That’s why I’ve put together some proven tips for you so you can practice patience with your child.


We should definitely observe our children more closely during this delicate phase, especially during social interactions. If “something goes wrong”, we as parents can intervene quickly and help our child to calm down. If that is successful, you can discuss with him/ her what just happened, what feeling the child has just experienced, and finally, you can look for alternatives together.

For example, your child is playing with a friend, and together they are building a high tower. Of course, the friend throws him over. Your child starts screaming after a brief second of shock and ends up hitting the other child. Now, of course, quick action is required. First, physical violence must be stopped. Then the tears will be dried and the dispute settled. After that, you should clarify what happened in a one-on-one conversation.

Explain to your child that he/she is angry and upset. Maybe also disappointed, and that it cried and beat because of that. Explain to him/ her that it’s okay and normal to feel this way. That it was inappropriate to hit his/her friend, though. Now ask if he/ she has any idea how he/ she could have reacted in another way. So walk away, yell “no” or vent somewhere else. However, doing nothing or just carrying on are not good alternatives. Because the feelings that your child has just shown are still there. And it cannot and should not simply swallow these feelings.

Patience must be celebrated

If your child shows patience, it is good if you immediately comment and praise it. Please don’t hesitate to be a bit exuberant and admire the result. Children work to achieve a goal and are not yet familiar with the word patience. It’s still too abstract.

Explain the exact process

The more specific you are on a schedule, the easier it will be for your child to wait. Many actions are not yet clear for our children. Just as times are difficult to understand.

This is where child-friendly schedulers are helpful, which you can use to visualize the necessary steps.

Times should be specific

 In 5 minutes or tomorrow is still too difficult to grasp, especially for smaller children. But: sleep again one more night, or I still have to prepare the snack, feed the dog, and iron Dad’s shirt before we go to Alexandra’s is something that most of the children understand much better. This makes it easier for them to bridge the time, and they are not surprised by unforeseen intermediate steps.

Give your children time for themselves too

Many parents have the urge to constantly provide something for their children. I can understand that variety makes everyday life exciting for our children, and they gain a lot of experience. However, it is just as important that they also get bored. They need time to come up with something themselves, to be able to slip into their childish imagination and thus learn to occupy themselves. Children need time for this. Of course not all day. But just as long as your child can play a game, it can also have time “to develop freely”.

How can you test your child’s patience in terms of self-regulation?

That’s easy: with sweets. Preferably with ones that your children like. Your child has to sit by a table. Place the marshmallow in front of him/ her. Now give your child the advice not to eat the marshmallow, and will he/ she get two when you return, and it’s still here. Now leave the room for a while. 

Most children under the age of 5 will eat it, older children will show patience and wait for you to return with two.

Conclusion about teaching patience

Be patient. Give your child time and space. With your support, it will learn patience and self-regulate any feelings that arise. An important quality for social interaction in private, school, and later in their professional life.

Patience is best practiced by learning by doing. This can be practiced particularly well in parlor games. But also in almost all daily situations. You don’t need to practice extra with your child. Try to guide your child well with the tips above. In this way, you can practice from early childhood on thinking up a job yourself for a short time.

Babies usually only endure this for a very short time. For example, if you see that your darling is busy with a rattle or a cuddly blanket and is really engrossed, then give him/her the time “alone”. Of course, this period of time becomes longer and longer in infancy. Until our children can play very well on their own for an hour or two, this can be expected at school age. After all, when they are teenagers, they no longer want anything to do with us parents. By the way, you can read more about puberty here.

All of this promotes and demands patience. It’s not just about being able to wait, but also being able to take yourself back and put off needs. These areas are closely intertwined and ultimately make up the construct of patience.

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