There are days when my kids seem to have zero patience.
“Mom, when can we go? Mom, is it time yet? Mom, I’m SOOOO BORRRRRRED. Mom, MY SISTER borrowed my shirt and wrecked it! Mom! I’m telling!!”
Consequently, I end up…ahem…losing MY patience too.
As moms, it’s hard. When we’re waiting in line with our kids, they’re excited about something or it’s just one of those days, patience wears thin. As my kids get older, it seems (at least in some areas like, getting along with their siblings) their patience gets even thinner.
Kids aren’t born with natural patience. A baby needs what it needs NOW. If a baby is hungry, he or she doesn’t understand “wait and see.” As kids grow older, we expect them to suddenly become expert patience masters—but kids get frustrated waiting just like adults do. Sometimes even more so.
Yet we live in a world of instant gratification. Almost any item we imagine is ours in a day or less (with enough money, of course). We can travel around the world, purchase any item we desire and have it shipped right to us, and view answers, videos and information instantly on our phones. It’s amazing—but t all this FAST stuff has led to us–adults included–to become pretty darned impatient. Just like our kids, we want what we want, when we want it.
Practicing patience builds appreciation and work ethic. Kids who learn to work for what they want and learn to delay gratification do better in adulthood. Patient people often have stronger relationships. They’re more focused on their goals and ready for challenges. They understand the value of time. Patience is truly a virtue and a life skill. Patience is a key to success. We all benefit from increasing our patience.
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So how do we help build patience in our kids? What are ways to help them learn to wait for what they want, and avoid temper tantrums and frustration? How can we help our kids learn the value of patience—not just waiting for what they want, but being patient with each other?
1. Start Small
Patience is actually a skill, believe it or not. So just like any learned skills, it requires practice. Kids aren’t born patient, but over time, they learn gratification can be delayed. It’s not practical to expect kids to jump in and become great at patience right away. We should start with baby steps.
Find little opportunities to delay gratification for a short period of time. Not only does this reinforce waiting skills, but it helps kids realize the reward will come eventually. You see, impatience comes from a place of insecurity and uncertainty. We feel impatient because we want something NOW. We don’t believe it will come if we wait for it (or we’re simply excited). Kids are the same way.
Reassure kids the good stuff is on the way! When kids need attention, start small by letting them know you’re busy now, but you’ll focus on them in a few minutes. Give them an exact amount of time whenever possible. “I hear you. I’m finishing this project and in three minutes I will help you,” is often all kids need to hear.
2. Set a Timer
The concept of time measurement is new to kids, especially if they’re young. It’s hard to know what 5 minutes vs. 45 minutes feels like. Give kids visual examples to help them understand time and so they see a solid end time to their waiting. Taking the ambiguity out of waiting helps ease impatience. If kids see sands trickle through an hourglass it creates a very visual association with time. Digital timers work too, of course, as do classic “egg timers” on the stove.
Set the amount of time for a project or playtime. Help kids know exactly how long they should expect and prepare them for winding down when time is getting close. Giving them a reminder like, “We’re going to head home from the park in about five minutes,” as it helps them keep their bearings and emotionally prepare.
When you spring activities on kids suddenly, “Grab your coat, we’ve got to go now!” it adds drama and stress to the situation. Kids don’t have time to prepare emotionally and it leaves them feeling uncertain and on edge (which in turn, leads to impatience).
3. Acknowledge Patience
Because patience is a skill, we should constantly reinforce and acknowledge it. Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful motivators for kids AND adults.
When kids are able to display patience, even for a short time, let them know by complimenting them and offering encouragement. You don’t need to give off major fanfare or reward them with a “prize” (like a toy), but instead help them realize good things come to those who wait. Offer longer playtimes or extra privileges when they show self-control.
Verbal reinforcement is huge for kids. Let them know you notice their patience, you know it’s challenging and you’re impressed with their perseverance and fortitude. Because patient kids are being quietly…well, patient, we might forget to notice their behavior.
4. Acknowledge Impatience, Too
Often when we’re paying attention to our phones, running around working on our endless to-do list or dealing with life in general, kids feel unseen or overlooked. Temper tantrums and demanding behaviors are a symptom of feeling ignored (it’s the whole “any attention is good attention” theory).
If your child is struggling with patience, it helps to acknowledge patience is a hard quality to possess. It’s totally normal to feel frustrated with the slow passage of time or waiting for what you really want. Adults feel this way all the time. This is why we see so many road rage incidents out there.
So when your kids say, “I can’t wait! It’s too hard,” simply letting them know you hear them and you totally get it is often enough to allay their annoyance. Explain that waiting is a big part of growing up and even though it’s challenging to wait, sometimes it’s necessary. Give your kids lots of feedback on what the timeline looks like (whether it’s 5 more minutes at the park or next summer until vacation).
5. Make It a Game
What’s more fun than waiting? Playing! So, ease the stress and irritation of patience by making it fun. Setting a timer and having a race to finish a project or to see how much they can get accomplish in a period helps time fly by.
If kids are waiting in a long line for example, play “I spy” or another observation game to help them learn to be present, mindful and aware of surroundings even while they wait. Dream up a song about waiting or teach them a skill. (It’s a great time to practice tying shoes or working on multiplication tables.)
When waiting becomes a fun “challenge,” the time passes quickly. Kids learn to distract themselves and self-soothe when waiting gets is too much. The ability to reframe frustration into a positive activity is a life skill they’ll carry through adulthood.
6. Enjoy Slow Activities
In today’s world, so many activities are all about speed. Fast videogames, instant internet speeds and the ability to get almost any item with a few clicks. It’s almost like magic.
Unfortunately, it’s made us all very impatient when we actually must wait. How many of us obsessively check the shipping tracker on an order we’re excited about? It’s easy to get impatient when what we want seems take its own sweet time.
Counteract all the fast by embracing activities that are a little slower. Play “old-fashioned” board games, which take much longer than videogames. Read a chapter per night of a favorite story. Make cookies or bake. Tackle a craft project (like paper mache) that takes time to dry and set before moving to the next step. Practice patience.
7. Stop and Smell the Roses
Help kids learn to appreciate being mindfully IN the moment by encouraging sensory activities and observations. When kids are feeling frustrated with waiting, talk them through their feelings and encourage them to look around them. What do they see? What do they hear? Smell? Observation activities are perfect for the outdoors, but you can practice them anywhere.
When we take time to observe the world around us, we become more mindful. Encourage kids to do “deep breathing,” by feeling their tummies go in and out as they breathe. You can also set a small stuffed animal on their tummy while they lie on their back and feel the animal rise and fall.
Sensory activities like playing with kinetic sand or even Play-Doh are great slow activities. Encourage kids to think about how the medium feels in their fingers. How can they change the shape? What does the dough or sand smell like? Sound like?
8. Model Patience
One of the most important ways to help our kids build patience is by modeling patience ourselves. This one is TOUGH! Many of us are frustrated when the internet is slightly lagging, when we’re waiting in line at the post office or when we’re stuck in traffic. We’ve learned impatience!
Time is such a precious commodity. We only have a finite amount each day and it’s easy to understand why so many of us want to pack in as much as possible in our day. Kids observe our frenzy and feel pressure to rush in their own activities.
Being an example of patience isn’t easy, but so much in life comes at a slow pace. If we got what we wanted, when we wanted it, we’d have nothing to work for—no big goals to climb toward. No mountain to conquer on the horizon. If you feel unenthused or unmotivated because results are moving slow, take a step back. You may need to break your goals down into smaller parts.
You may even need to rethink your goals—and I know this sounds crazy—aim for an even bigger goal! Sometimes when we aren’t passionate enough or challenged enough by our goals, we feel like we’re treading water. Pick a BIG goal you want bad and then take deliberate steps to get there. Model what hard work, perseverance and patience looks like.
Slow down. Learn to wait for what you want. Gain perspective by reflecting on how long you’ve been working toward a goal or outcome and how far you’ve come. When it seems to take too long, use the same techniques you’d encourage your kids to embrace. Patience is a habit. It’s a quality we learn how to display over time. Kids and adults can work together to learn the benefits of patience!