Impatient child? Why some kids can’t wait their turn

By Gail Belsky

At a glance

  • All kids are impatient from time to time, especially younger ones.

  • Some kids are impulsive and have a hard time waiting their turn.

  • When older kids are overly impatient, they may need extra support.

It’s not easy for kids to wait their turn when there’s something they really want to say or do. That’s especially true for young kids, who are still developing self-control. But as kids get older, they can usually hold off and wait.   

Find out why some kids have a hard time being patient and waiting their turn.

What being extremely impatient looks like

Kids who struggle with patience might:

  • Blurt out answers in class instead of waiting to be called on
  • Push to the front of the line when there’s something fun to do
  • Interrupt conversation so they can share their thoughts immediately
  • Grab toys from other kids or insist on playing with them first
  • Try to rush other people through what they’re doing

Kids who can’t wait their turn might get frustrated with themselves, too. They know how they’re supposed to behave, but they have to fight their strong desire to do things now.

What causes constant impatience

Most kids are impatient at one time or another. But when it happens all the time, there may be another cause.

A common reason is impulsivity. Impulsive kids aren’t “acting out.” They have a hard time slowing down to think before they act. Kids with are often impulsive and impatient. 

Kids may struggle to wait their turn if they have trouble understanding and following social rules. For example, taking turns in conversation. 

How to help

Take a close look at the impatience. Does it happen at the same time of day or in certain situations? You may be able to pick up on important patterns. Jot down what you notice.

Having notes makes it easier for parents, teachers, and others to share what they see and come up with strategies to help at home and at school. It’s also a good idea for parents and caregivers to share concerns about behavior with their child’s doctor. 

Giving specific praise can motivate kids to be more patient. Try to catch them being patient, and then say something like: “Thanks for waiting so calmly for your turn to talk.” 

Key takeaways

  • Kids who struggle with self-control aren’t just “acting out.”

  • ADHD and trouble with social skills can make it hard for kids to wait their turn.

  • Observe the behavior and take notes. You may pick up on important patterns.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is a clinical child psychologist devoted to the destigmatization of mental health problems.