4 Tips To Help Kids Wait

4 Tips To Help Kids Wait

“Look! Look at me! Look what I can do! Look what I made!”

Sound familiar?

Many parents are getting a crash course in the unique challenges and rewards of working from home with children. It’s hard for everybody—your kids need your attention, and spending time with your children is important to you, too.

So when you both want to spend time together, but other things need to get done, what can you do?

That question is your hint: figure out what you and your child CAN DO!

1. Set aside talk time

The first thing you CAN DO helps you and your whole family (adults included!) respect each other’s time: figure out when you CAN talk. Many children are perfectly capable of waiting, so knowing when they CAN approach you will help them bring out their inner STRENGTH of patience and be more respectful of time boundaries.

For example, you could let them know that you’ll be available during a lunch break, and then again at the end of your work day. Or maybe you can take a quick break to talk every two hours. What’s important here is making sure that whatever you decide is within your boundaries—what you need to be effective at work and to stick to this agreement.

2. Schedule play time

The second thing you CAN DO with your kids is pick a time every day, even just 30 minutes, when they get your undivided attention. It might seem counter-intuitive because you are home with them all day! However, this is where the distinction between quality and quantity really comes into play.

Make this a special time with no phone and no distractions, just some solid time together where you are paying close attention to your child and what is important to them. This time is golden, especially if you spend it SAYing WHAT YOU SEE them doing and naming their STRENGTHS. Spending this kind of high-quality time together makes your connection stronger and helps them feel seen and validated, which will eventually reduce their need for your attention the rest of the day.

If you have multiple children, it makes an even bigger difference if you can give each child alone time with you—no other people involved. If you can't do daily, weekly can work! But even if you can’t guarantee one-on-one time, making sure that your kids know that they will get your full, focused attention and when can really help them wait the rest of the day. It will also help you—parents who allow interruptions do it because they also want time with their kids. When you know when you'll get to play, it’s easier for you to wait, too. 😉

3. Have your kids make a list of fun CAN DOs

A third thing you can do is set your child (and yourself) up for success with fun CAN DOs. A vague order to leave you alone or stay out of the office might get compliance, but without a clear alternative, children may be naturally drawn back to you. Children’s brains are growing like crazy, so they are naturally driven to find something (anything) to facilitate that growth. Bored children with no easily available challenges are liable to pick a fight with a sibling or distract a busy parent in their search for something to facilitate their growth. When children have fun and challenging tasks before them, they can find a way to engage themselves because they are naturally curious and creative.

To make sure the challenges are engaging, you can put them in the lead by asking them to help you create a list of games, activities, and helpful tasks they would enjoy. Per the fourth Language of Listening® premise, when put in the lead children set exactly the right level of challenge for growth. If they are interested in making the list themselves, that could be their first challenge. It could be a written list, a picture list on a poster, cards to pick from a deck, slips of paper to pick out of a basket, etc. You could even get out the activities and set them in different areas of a room. Then instead of coming to you and tugging at your heartstrings with a droopy little face that says, "I'm bored," they can empower themselves with self-direction throughout the day as you get your work done.

4. Help them discover their patience

One more thing you can do is what we call Success Training. This is when you pick out a STRENGTH you’d like your child to become aware of, create opportunities for them to display the STRENGTH, and then name it when it shows up!

You should start as small as is necessary—for example, if you know your child can successfully wait 10 minutes without interrupting your work, start there. When they ask for your attention, tell them you can give them your full attention when they come back in 10 minutes, and then celebrate like crazy when they succeed! Success proves to your child that they are capable of waiting.

You also want to make sure to truly give them your full attention at that time for whatever they waited to share. Keeping your word will build trust and demonstrate the benefit of waiting. Even though 10 minutes may seem short (we cover toddler's shorter wait times here), what’s important is to start wherever the child can succeed, point out their success as proof, and use the moment to identify the STRENGTH they showed:

SWYS: You waited the whole 10 minutes until the timer went off, even though it was so hard! You really wanted to come talk to me, but you waited.

STRENGTH: That shows you have patience! You can wait.

Naming a STRENGTH whenever your child shows it, no matter how small the success may seem to you, is key to building your child’s ability to identify with it, and therefore display it naturally in the future. Per our third premise, children act according to who they believe they are. When children discover they can succeed, even waiting can become a game, so don't be surprised if your child starts extending the waiting time themselves. And who knows? It might even end up on their list of things to do when they feel bored: "see how long I can wait."

Plus, bringing out your child's STRENGTHs builds their connection with you. Creating a stronger bond with your children as you help them see the good in themselves and grow important skills? Maybe the unique challenges of this whole "working from home" thing will be more rewarding than you thought.


You can find out more about our simple 3-part coaching approach in our book, SAY WHAT YOU SEE® for Parents and Teachers. You can buy it here, or if you just can’t wait, you can read it online here for free!

Or if videos are more your speed, you can check out our online Basic Coaching Skills Course, which is full of clips that you can watch on your own time to learn how to step from controlling your child to coaching your child and gain more hugs, more respect, and more cooperation as a result.

You can find more tips to make working/staying at home easier with kids here:

Success Training—Helping Littles Wait

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