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Teaching Toddlers Patience and Persistence

Written by: Kokotree

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teach toddler patience persistence

Thinking of your toddler might fill you with overflowing adoration and joy. However, you probably would appreciate more patience from your little one. Perhaps you’d like them to focus on activities longer before their patience runs out and boredom (and mischief) sets in. 

This blog has your back if you want to teach your toddler some much-needed patience and persistence!

Toddlers and patience?

Many parents and caregivers might feel perplexed at the thought of attempting to explain patience or delayed gratification to a toddler, and rightfully so. 

They are not old enough to fully understand regulating emotions, restraining excess energy, or just waiting. However, patience is essential for all ages, and learning it earlier is always better. Patience will help your toddler grow into a considerate person, develop better interpersonal relationships, and perform better academically.

Each toddler has a unique temperament, and they learn patience differently. According to Roni Leiderman, Ph.D., associate dean of Nova Southeastern University’s Mailman Segal Center for Early Childhood Studies, it’s a good idea to start by observing your child and recognizing that waiting can be challenging for some children, it comes naturally to others. 

Thus, one approach could be effective for one toddler while not working for another, and that’s alright!  The idea is to figure out what works for your child and use those techniques to support them in situations that call for patience.

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Teaching toddlers patience.

All children are impulsive, some more than others. Interestingly enough, if you do it correctly, you can train your toddler to be more patient in a few days.

By expecting impatient toddlers to wait just a little bit, then a little bit more, and then much more, you can gradually stretch their patience. However, the majority of parents teach patience in the exact opposite way.

Say, for instance, that your toddler pulls at your clothes while you’re working. Most parents and caregivers will tenderly ask their children to wait and continue doing what they do. The problem is that this makes your toddler want your attention even more!

1. The Patience-Stretching Technique

To apply the patience-stretching method, you must have something your child wants, such as food, a toy, etc. Once you have that, just follow these easy steps:

  1. Start by almost fulfilling their request. Imagine your 1-year-old interrupts you and asks for a cookie. Stop what you’re doing and repeat the request to them,” do you want a cookie?” 
  2. Start delivering the cookie, but stop midway and pretend to have recalled something important.
  3. Disengage and pretend to be searching for something.
  4. And now the “payoff.” You can turn around and give your child the cookie a few seconds later. Remember to praise your little one for waiting.

Your child will learn that waiting isn’t unpleasant and that you always keep your word if you quickly reward them for their patience.

Stretch the waiting period steadily. Start with 5 seconds and gradually increase to 10, 30, 60 seconds, and more. Your toddler can wait a minute or two or more in a week if you do this daily. You will have helped your child develop self-control one step at a time!

2. Time it!

You can also teach your toddler patience using timers. Show your little one how the timer works when things are calm. Explain to them that you will be back when the timer starts ringing.

When your toddler starts pestering you for something, respond to them and almost give them what they’ve asked before suddenly saying, “Wait, wait! Just a second, sweetie! I have to check the oven. When this timer rings, I’ll be able to give you (whatever they’d like at that moment).

You can suggest they play or read a book until the timer goes off, but don’t insist too much. Let them choose how they spend their time while waiting!

Initially, set the timer for 20 seconds. When it rings, return, praise your toddler, “Hey, good waiting!” and immediately keep your promise. Steadily increase the waiting period to a minute or two. But every once in a while, surprise them by setting the timer for just 10 seconds. Doing so will give the impression that a minute goes by fast. 

Additionally, give a double reward “You waited so well…here are 2 cookies!”. Your toddler will probably think that “waiting is awesome. Sometimes I get even more than I wanted!” 

Later, pretending to gossip to your little one’s favorite toy or a family member, praise them for having waited well that day. Praising them like this will make them want to do it again. After all, children thrive on positive affirmation.

Keep in mind that patience stretching doesn’t mean not teasing your little one. Patience-stretching and teasing are two very different things.  When you promise your toddler something they want without intending to give it to them, you are teasing them.

However, with patience stretching, you only slightly delay giving your child what they want. And toddlers find this quite reasonable.


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Teaching your toddler Persistence.

The ability to persevere is built upon patience and a good attention span. Children naturally possess the trait of persistence, while other times, it needs to be learned or reinforced.

Most psychologists and almost all parents agree with temperament expert Stella Chess that perseverance is an inherited quality. All the same, there is also evidence to suggest that persistence in children can be taught. 

Experience makes a great teacher. Children who successfully persevere typically do so again.

If your child is so persistent that they wear you out when they want something, spend hours perfecting their Lego tower, or pick on their sibling to the point of tears, they may only need to learn to redirect their persistent disposition. You may even feel this is a quality you don’t want to foster. But, if used properly, it can benefit your child in the long run.

Another possibility is that your kid is easily frustrated, rarely finishes tasks, and gives up as soon as things do not go according to plan. Whichever the case, there are some parenting techniques to encourage and teach perseverance.

Many accomplished people attribute their success to their ability to persist. The never give up attitude has been proven essential for accomplishing one’s goals.

However, toddlers sometimes channel their persistence in ways that make you want to tear your hair out. Being persistent is not bad; however, some guidance can help them better channel this “secret to success trait.”

Concentrating obsessively on just one thing wears you both out. Don’t worry, take tiny steps, and soon your child will have learned the importance of restorative rest and given you yours.

So, what are some practical ways to promote perseverance in your toddler? Read on.

1. Set them up for success!

Your toddler may be more likely to give up if the challenge is too overwhelming. When setting up the activity, try to make it so your toddler can succeed. 

Let’s suppose you’re trying to teach your toddler to put on their own pants, and after two attempts at getting their legs through the right openings, the child gives up and hurls their pants to the ground in a fit of rage. You can employ something called the backward chaining technique in this situation.

Backward chaining involves doing the first five steps of the activity yourself, having the child complete the final step, and then praising their effort.  Repeat the activity, having your child complete the final two steps this time, and so on. 

In order to teach your toddler to put on their own trousers, you would arrange the pants properly, help them put both feet in, draw the pants up, line up the snap, and then have them push the snap closed while you walk them through each step one at a time. You congratulate your child when they successfully snap their pants. 

Next, you do every step except for aligning the snap and closing, continuing until your toddler can complete all the steps on their own. Your role is to assist, encourage, and teach your child, but in the end, they do the entire task themselves. 

This is particularly useful when teaching how to tie shoe laces. By remaining nearby and guiding them through the work, you can divert their attention and sustain motivation while giving them the satisfaction of completing the task.

2. Praise every effort!

While playing or engaging in other activities, pay attention to your little one’s attempts and praise them for overcoming every obstacle. Praise and congratulate them for persevering if your toddler struggles for a while to fit a square into the shape sorter before succeeding. Acknowledge the action, but also the perseverance. Tell them, ” Well done! you tried so hard.”

3. Count down to transitions

If your toddler is already persistent, try this! Transitions can be difficult for children who become overly focused on a task since it is hard for them to change their focus and pause what they are doing to go on to something new. When it’s time to move on, it could be helpful to count down. Give your toddler warnings in intervals starting five or ten minutes before the transition. Try saying something like, “You can work on your puzzle for 5 more minutes. After that, it’s dinner time,” for one.

Try, and then try again is your secret mantra for success here.

When your child fails, encourage them to try again. Make it a joyful experience to try again if your little one’s attempts to put the ball in the hoop fail and they break down in tears. Perhaps you can make the activity so that it is a little easier. Thus, they are satisfied to finish their mission after putting forward the effort.


Patience is a virtue, and persistence is the secret to success! Introducing these qualities now can set your child up to reap the many benefits of this skill throughout their lives. 

Although sometimes in life, even after persisting, things don’t work out as anticipated, your child must see the merit of putting forth the effort.  Talk to your toddler about trying harder the next time, finding something else they are good at, and not giving up just because they failed the first time.

Keep your expectations in check. Learning patience demands practice. Putting in the effort now will let you appreciate it in the long run. Remember that it is okay to take a break if things aren’t going well with training your toddler.  Taking a breather and coming back refreshed might make things easier. Don’t be too persistent yourself, either!

Practice being patient yourself to set a good example. Driving, waiting in a lengthy checkout line while your child takes an eternity to decide what to wear, etc. These are all things that try your patience. 

Yet, if you do so without losing your cool, you may also take advantage of these situations to teach your toddler to wait patiently for their turn.

Remember that waiting is difficult (for everyone, but especially children) will probably help you through the rough patches.

Be cautious about using bribes. Getting them to do something by offering bribes will get them hooked and make it impossible to do without. While waiting, try to limit your toddler’s screen time. Another thing you don’t want them hooked on.

Your toddler is brimming with unfulfilled potential and you can help them tap into it by instilling patience and persistence in them. And perhaps you will also learn a lot yourself while working on this with your little one.

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