Success Training—Helping Littles Wait

Success Training—Helping Littles Wait

For toddlers and preschoolers, waiting is extra hard!!

This may be a universal maxim, but that doesn’t make trying to work from home while your littles are home with you any easier.

This does! Improve your child’s self-control and improve your relationship with your child with Success Training.

Success Training Starts Right Where Your Child Is

First, ask your child how long they CAN wait and start there. For some children, it may be 5 minutes, for some 10, and for some, maybe only 30 seconds! However long it is, you can set a timer, and have them wait in the other room (or outside the door, or wherever). Then, once the timer goes off, they can come and tell you what they did that helped them wait. It might be anything from sitting quietly and imagining something, to jumping around, to playing with something, etc. 

Then use their success as an opportunity to name a STRENGTH like, “You waited until the timer went off! You figured out that _____ (imagining, jumping, playing, etc.) helps you wait. Waiting shows patience!”

Be sure to give them your full attention and enthusiasm while they share with you whatever it was that they did to wait. Kids love reenacting their successes, which is handy since repetition helps them anchor new skills.

Obviously, you won’t be getting much work done if your child is interrupting you every 30 seconds (or every 10 minutes, even). The good news is, with this experience of success under their belt, they can begin to see themselves as patient (or respectful, courteous, good-at-waiting, self-controlled, etc.).

Once you’ve jump-started their new sense of self, you can help them work up to longer increments of time. For example, a preschooler who could only wait 5 minutes the first time may be able to wait 7 minutes the second time. Or maybe longer!

You can put it to them like this: “You were able to wait five whole minutes before you came back in here to talk to me! I wonder how long you’ll be able to wait this time.” If your child has enough confidence in their ability to wait, you will see them expand the length of time naturally. And you’ll be there every time they successfully wait a little longer to excitedly attend to everything they want to share with you and point out their STRENGTHs!

“But I don’t want to wait AT ALL!”

Many children may not feel like they can wait at all! This is completely natural, especially for littles who don’t yet know that they have the STRENGTH of patience. For these children, deeper Success Training including lots of validation is in order! You can start by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE, and then setting a boundary followed by a CAN DO:

SWYS: “You don’t feel like you can wait at all! You feel like if you don’t talk to me right now, you’re going to explode!”


Boundary: “This is my work time (or alone time, etc.).”


CAN DO: “You can tell me your most important things right now, and I will give you my full attention. Once you’re done, you’ll go back out the door, I’ll start working again, and when the timer goes off again you can tell me your next things.”


Child: “But I don’t want to wait AT ALL! I want you to play with me now!”


SWYS: “You really really don’t want to wait. I’m right here, and you want to play with me RIGHT NOW! It doesn’t make sense that I’m home, and we can’t play together. Usually when I’m home it’s playtime. You are right! This is a really weird time. You are home from school, and I am home from work. We are both home!


Boundary: “And this is my work time (or alone time, etc.).”


CAN DO: “Hmm. Must be something you can do to make waiting easier. Meanwhile, I can set the timer for a shorter time. How long can you wait this time?”

You can repeat this cycle as many times as needed until your child finds something to help them wait and starts succeeding at waiting. As soon as they are able to wait, even for a very short time, make sure to swoop in and name that STRENGTH! Every child has the ability to be patient, they just need your help to see it in themselves. And as you help them recognize and build their awareness of their patience and their natural waiting strategies, you get to share joyful, connective moments along the way.

Success Training During Playtime

You probably already know that your child’s ability to draw on STRENGTHs like patience and self-control will take time to develop. That’s why it’s most helpful to do this kind of Success Training when you are not in a time crunch. So for example, when you are spending time with your child this evening, or this weekend, and you don’t have an urgent deadline, you can work Success Training into your playtime.

You can tell them you’re going to pretend to work (or read, think, etc.), and you want to see how long they can wait. You can keep them in the lead by asking them what you should work on (or read, think, etc.). Then, tell your child to show you “waiting” while you pretend to be busy, etc. If they’re willing to play the waiting game, you can use the same Success Training technique described above, congratulating them each time they are able to wait longer, pointing out what they did to help them wait, and reinforcing their STRENGTH of patience, waiting, or whatever else you want them to know about themselves.

If they are not interested in playing the waiting game (maybe because they’ve just spent all day living it for real!), you can use a Playful Parenting approach and try role reversal! Have your child pretend to work (read, think, etc.) while you beg for their attention. You can let them do Success Training with you and tell you how you should react—should you be good at waiting and celebrate together when your child congratulates you on outlasting the timer? Or maybe not able to wait at all and pretend to cry? No matter what, make sure your reactions are directed by your child and are as silly and over-exaggerated as possible.

Don’t be surprised if your child asks to play that game over and over again! This is your child’s way of grappling with the difficulty of waiting from a safe distance—in a playful space where they feel empowered by being in the lead. Watching you playfully struggle to wait, especially with your exaggerated displays of emotions, can be a validating experience for them. Play is how children process and overcome challenges.

Once they’ve engaged enough with you within play, they will be ready to try for real. And you’ll be right there to empathize with their struggle using SAY WHAT YOU SEE, and to name their STRENGTHs as they show up. In this way, you can work together with your child to build their inner STRENGTHs as you strengthen your bond. Feeling connected to you and knowing they can wait will help them give you the space you need to work from home (or take time for yourself, etc.) and make it easier for you to ask them to wait.

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 take 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 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 of any age here:

4 Tips To Help Kids Wait 

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