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Teaching A Four Year Old Patience

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Dear Dr. Susan

My daughter (almost 4) has zero patience (her preschool teacher agrees). She is well adjusted in every other area…she is smart, gets along well with her friends, active, etc. It’s just that when she wants something she wants it IMMEDIATELY and will persist until she gets the attention she wants. This is for every insignificant thing most of the time. For example…if I’m on the phone she will say ‘mommy’ about a hundred times (escalating in volume) to tell me something like ‘I put my doll in the stroller ok? Or, if she wants a drink or napkin, and I tell her to wait a minute she gets very upset. It is like an impulsive thing…she MUST say something and it must be acknowledged or she will not give in. She must tell me what she is doing at every moment i.e…”mom I’m sharing"… or "Mom I'm...". If it were someone elses’ child I might think it was a cry for attention…but I’m a stay at home mom and feel I give her  plenty of one-on-one time… but I’m also busy at home and have another daughter (almost 2). When I ask her to wait or be patient she pretty much ignores me and continues until I finally give in.


Dear Jeannie:

Thank you for writing me.

I am so please that you have figured out your four-year old’s need for attention and that you are interested in modifiying her intensity. Since I do not know your child or her personality my suggestions are generally useful for trying a few approaches to see if they make a difference,

First, remember that you know your child best! You need to think about her temperament and personality and try to giver her credit for her interest, her enthusiasm and her social skills. It is not too early to try to figure out her talents. Four year –olds are good at lots of things. Use praise, not bribery, as her reward for cooperating and waiting for things to happen. A great trick is to “hold her off” for even a few seconds when she demands your time. Tell her, “I heard you and I will finish this job and then listen to you." Even if she does not comply with this request, ignore her, do a quck job and then attend to her. So she gets used to your reaction, she’ll learn a good habit – to wait longer and longer! You need to learn how to igner her but still know what she is doing. Talk to yourelf! Talk to the wall. Just try not to give her attention for this attitude of instant gratification. Catch her being good, and make a big deal out of any “time waiting” she does. She will quickly get the point if you are consistent and repetitious about this procedure of telling her you will quickly finish a job and then listen to her. She must trust you that you will not make her wait too long in the beginning, as she learns to wait.

Another trick is to substitute what she wants from you with something you think she will like to do to be helpful. Four year-olds love to help and that is why teachers love to teach this age – because helping makes them feel so important! She will help you cook, clean, vacuum, fold clothes if she thinks its fun and a special treat for just the two of you. She will enjoy being your partne; you mix cookie dough, she mixes cookie dough or you sing a song while you make the bed, and she sings a song helping. She plays “Chutes and Ladders: with you after the two-year-old goes down for nap – things like those activities are very good for teaching patience ad cooperation.

Still another idea is that you “train her by using a telephone (cordless)" and “pretending” to call someone. She can play “play-act what she wants from you (like a napkin or a book to read) and you say into the phone “oops – my daughter wants my help so I'll have to call you back.” (These “pretend-play” games engage in “make-believe”.) Then, reverse the game and she calls a pretend friend, and  you interrupt her, and she tells you to just wait a minute. You can also use two dolls or favorite animals to act out this give and take situational problem-solving techniques. It will work, I promise. Thanks for writing.

Dr. Susan Turben

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