Teaching Children Patience

By Bob Lancer

Patience is a state of calm, confident acceptance of the time something, or someone, takes.  Parents of infants often feel impatient to see their child’s development, to satisfy their curiosity about the personality their child will demonstrate.  Parents of toddlers often display impatience when their child wants to stop and explore where she is while on a walk. Parents of children of all ages often become impatient when their child wanders off task and takes longer than the parent believes is necessary to complete an undertaking.

Parents most commonly feel agonized by the pain of impatience when their child displays impatience, like when an infant cries during the time it takes for you to cater to a need, or when a 5 year old whines, “When are we going to get there?” at the beginning of a lengthy car trip, and every five minutes after that. Parents often express impatience toward their child when he repeats an inappropriate form behavior again and again despite the parents efforts and pleas for change. Parents also tend to feel impatient with themselves when their child’s problematic behavior requires their intervention but they can’t come up with an instant way to “fix” it.

Particularly for children under six, no amount of verbal explanation will help the child deal with delayed gratification, because in the first six years children learn, primarily, by example.  After the age of six, the behavior you model continues to impose a significant influence upon the child, though. You have to consistently demonstrate authentic patience around your child and toward your child to teach your child patience. As you demonstrate a genuinely patient attitude around and toward your child of any age, you instill that virtue in your child.  To the extent that you react impatiently to your child, to others around your child, to delay and opposition of any kind, you lead your child to demonstrate that same weakness of self-control.

It’s important to remember the need for patience.  When you become impatient you become less effective, not more effective.  You may be able to make things happen more quickly through intense forcefulness, but there is a price for that. In your relationships you become too flexible and intolerant, too agreeable and difficult to get along with.  The stress of impatience is not only physically unhealthy, it blocks your ability to access clear and reasonable judgment, creativity, and deep understanding.  It lowers your morale. If it builds up too much, it can drive you into very destructive behavior.

As you replace your impatience with focused relaxation, your hurry with a calm but competent pace, your frustration with the time things take with calm confidence, you teach your child how to patiently deal with what happens and how to patiently work for what she wants. Avoid routinely pressuring your child to hurry up or you instill in the child a pattern of pressuring others, himself and life to hurry up. When your child’s antics begin pressing your buttons, discipline yourself to pause before reacting, to establish yourself in peace and poise before straining for control.

Beyond modelling, a great way to teach children patience is in the garden or with a flower -pot. Involve the child in the process of planting a seed, caring for it, and watching it grow.  As the child observes changes, explain how everything in life takes a certain amount of time to happen. However, avoid the common error of trying to teach patience by impatiently scolding the child for how long it is taking for his improved behavior to happen.