Teaching Your Child Patience

Patience is a valuable skill that is essential to have in life in order to keep stress at a safe level. How many times have we heard a friend or work colleague make the statement “I am not a patient person”? Chances are, too many times. Having and practicing patience is the first crucial step as parents in teaching our children how to be patient.
Parents are the most powerful ‘teachers’ that a child will ever have. If a parent displays anger, the child will; if a parent displays fortitude, then the child will as well. It goes without saying that once our babies and toddlers start interacting with other children and adults, then this will have an impact on what the parent has taught; but so long as the parent reinforces the early lessons on a consistent basis, then the child will retain what they learned.
Impulsive is the opposite of patience and just about everyone has the ability to be impulsive. I think most of us have made an unnecessary purchase on a credit card out of impulse. The more impulsive the parent, the more “I wants” that parent will hear from their child.
Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a world-renowned child psychoanalyst who made valuable contributions to the study of psychology. Erikson believed that a parent’s responsive behavior toward an infant in the first year of life provides an essential foundation for later development – including behaviors such as patience. In his book Childhood and Society, (original copyright 1950 by W. Norton & Co.), Erikson asserts that patience is a learned behavior.

Being Patient
It can be very tough to be patient most of the time let alone all of the time in front of your children. And let’s be honest here, sometimes what our children do drive us to become impatient. It can be a vicious circle to battle, but it is an important one to be aware of at all times.
There is truly a difference of what a parent can expect from a 2 year old and from a 4 year old. Anne Woudstra, Ph.D., works with pre-school children and she says, “As a child’s language skills develop there will be better results as they grow older. Asking a 4 year old to wait for her snack will have a more positive outcome than a 3 year old.”
Some people tend to think that some children (and adults) are naturally more patient than others. To some degree this seems plausible but according to Erikson, no. When a child seems more patient, a lot of this is due to factors that start in utero. For example, negative emotions from an expectant mother (stressed out, angry, if she’s being abused, etc.) are felt by the unborn baby which often results in a baby that’s more demanding; therefore he or she tends to be more impatient. The same is to be said for emotions at the other end of the spectrum; positive emotions experienced by the expectant mother are felt by the baby often resulting in children that appear to be naturally patient.

Teaching Children to be Patient
Not one of us is a perfect parent and from time-to-time, we all have behaved in a way in which we wished we didn’t. So the next time you’re impatient about something, so long as your child can understand, take that moment to explain that how you reacted was wrong. Being humble around your children will go a long way in them becoming humble.

5 Tips to Teaching Patience

  1. When your child is demanding something (i.e. ‘change the tv channel now’) start by explaining that manners are a must. The take the time to explain that “please” can go a long way. Then, if appropriate to the situation, ask your child to please wait (parents need to use manners too) and allow 5-10 seconds to pass before changing the channel. (On the flip side, if your child has triggered a negative emotion in you – then you should count to ten before saying anything.)
  2. As mentioned above, the best way to teach your child patience is by practicing it yourself. If you’re stuck in traffic there is nothing you can do – you can’t change it – you have to accept it – and if your child is in the car then play a game to help pass time (i.e. I Spy).
  3. Often your children don’t have the vocabulary to express what they are feeling but you can help verbalize their feelings for them. For example, you’re in a long line up at the grocery store – say to your child, “this is taking a long time but you’re doing a great job waiting.” Again, play a game such as ‘I Spy’.
  4. Develop strategies for waiting such as keeping books in a bag with you when you go places. Planning ahead and having items with you to help maintain patience when long waits occur is a great strategy. (This is even good to practice as adults!)
  5. If your child wants to do an activity with you, and you’re pre-occupied then chances are you’ll use that famous line ‘in a minute’ – and that minute turns out to be longer. Time to get an egg timer. So next time tell your child that you look forward to having activity time, and although you are busy, when that egg timer finishes, you make sure you stop what you are doing and spend time with your child.

Written by Karen Stephenson, B.A., S.S.W. Karen is a freelance writer and journalist and has written for numerous print publications including City Parent Magazine. She has raised three children and enjoys spending time with her grandson. Karen once operated her own day care service and has worked with children and youth for over 20 years.