Children are naturally impatient beings. Honestly, most adults are too. Patience partly depends on temperament, and what our children see at home, but patience is something that needs to be practiced too. Patience is something that I have to work on daily, but I have many friends who are un-phased by the little annoyances of everyday life. It’s often how we choose to respond to situations that matters most. So how do we practice patience with children?
It’s important to be intentional when trying to teach and practice patience with young children, because this isn’t going to happen overnight. Think about it, there are probably many adults you know who lack patience in many situations (car rides, grocery line, calls to the doctor, etc), so why is this a virtue we just expect children to automatically have?
We need to think about why patience is so important, especially for children. Patience will help them to develop better self-control and self-awareness. Children need self-control for lifelong success. How many times have you simply handed over the ipad to keep your toddler from yelling in the restaurant? Giving in to avoid a power struggle is likely something we’ve all done, but it isn’t serving our children, and rather fulfilling an unnecessary desire. This will take us practicing patience as well.
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Although it can be difficult at times, kids need to hear no. When we deny our children of wants (not needs), we are teaching them that they will not always have every desire fulfilled at the drop of a hat. Today’s culture favors instant gratification; anything that can take the pain away now, a pill to help us lose the weight overnight, a shiny new car instead of saving for retirement, and so forth.
With delayed gratification, we are teaching the value in patience; building a tolerance for waiting, rather than simply expecting and receiving. Of course, the older we get, the easier it is to tolerate delayed gratification, because we can see the end goal in our mind. But children, they expect adults to constantly meet their needs and demands because that is what they are used to.
Below are some examples of simple and useful ways to practice delayed gratification with kids:
Don’t give them a snack every time they ask. Instead, tell them “you can have dessert after you eat all of your dinner”.
Or when they ask for cartoons at an unfavorable time, reply, “you may watch cartoons after you have finished your chores for the week”.
Saying no is something that can be practiced every day, and it will be so beneficial in the end. It can be helpful to add a time frame so younger children can be more understanding and not as impulsive. For example, your child wants to go to the park on a Tuesday evening but you still have to get dinner cleaned up and homework started. Print out a calendar for your child and have him draw a picture on a specific day that works to have a park date. As the day approaches, allow your child to mark off the days leading up to that day. It’s interactive and hands-on, giving them a little added responisbility to keep up with that schedule too.
Practice with Longer Activities
My daughter (3) loves to help me in the kitchen. She’s kind of like a puppy, where every time she hears the pantry door open she comes running and asks if she can help. Honestly, cooking and baking with children is a great (and very natural) way to teach and practice patience. She has her own baking set complete with an apron and kitchen gadgets.
Recipes take time to follow, to measure out the ingredients, to prep and then to cook. Not only will this help with practicing patience, but children also learn responsibility, have a better appreciation of the work that goes into preparing a meal, get the oppotunity to enhance their motor skills and strengthen your bond.
Children are able to help by preparing the food and then they can help to set the kitchen timer. I just tell my daughter that when the timer beeps, we can enjoy what we made together. It’s not always the easiest concept for a toddler to understand, because when you want a brownie, you want a brownie, but the more you practice this, the more they will catch on. And hey, in the end you might have yourself a little chef.
Another great activity to help teach patience is Legos. Have you ever built a Lego set that has 4,000+ pieces with a 6 year old? Of course it is a struggle for a child to not open every bag and try to complete the set overnight. A set with many bags and pieces is not only a great way to test anyone’s patience, but is another great lesson in delayed gratification. This is the perfect demonstration to show children that they must work toward the end goal, problem solve, and wait for the project to come together.
Chores are an excellent and very realistic way to teach kids that they must work for what they want. Set clear expectations for your children so they know what it is they are able to earn and why they are completing chores in the first place. Chores teach responsibility for oneself, as well as placing value on the things we want for ourselves.
When your children have completed tasks, they can then earn money once per week, which teaches them that they have to wait for the money or item they are working for. This is a very difficult thing for my 6 year old. When he sees a particular game or toy he would like to purchase, he then must decide if he wants to wait another week to earn more money (practicing patience) or spend the money right then on something less (instant gratification).
Let this be a lesson for your children so they are able to see the value in waiting. At times, we have told our son we would match his allowance from chores if he held onto his money for a week. Or, we have even written out a timeline together to show him how many weeks it will take to earn a specific item that he wants. Using visuals is a great way to illustrate to older kids how long they may have to wait for something they want. It’s also a great way to practice their math skills!
Spend time connecting with your children. This will help you to become more patient and calm, thus showing your kids what it’s like to be patient as well. The more time you spend together, actually interacting together, the more you both grow to learn more about eachother. And a stronger bond is formed. By showing your child how much you care to spend quality time with them, you are placing a strong value on relationships and this will impact them forever.
Most of us are always in a rush, we have chores to get done around the home, we have dinner to prepare and laundry to fold. But when you set time aside for connecting with your children, your children will be happier and better-adjusted, creating a more peaceful home environment overall. At the end of the day we all want love and acceptance, and we must teach our children how to give and receive love, affection, patience and to value the needs of other people.
Prioritize Your Time
When you are overwhelmed, it will show in your actions and responses toward those you love. Think about it, you have had a rough day at work, full of meetings, and you come home to a messy house and hungry kiddos asking what’s for dinner (over and over again). Or maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom and you just need 5 minutes for yourself. Your toddler has demanded your undivided attention for the last 8 hours straight and now your husband needs x, y and z.
You snap at them out of frustration, and… cue the tears.
You see, it’s so much easier to speak to those you love in a way that you wouldn’t speak to a complete stranger, or a coworker. Your family loves you and trusts you. They will more easily forgive your actions toward them because they love you unconditionally. This does not mean we do not have to show grace and be patient. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. These are the moments we need to practice it most. Little eyes are always watching.
It’s time to prioritize and even eliminate some of the tasks that are overwhelming and not serving you. Having a set plan at the beginning of the week with a short to-do list can lead to smoother transitions and a happier and calmer family. Plan out dinners for the week that can be prepped ahead of time, or even dinners your children can help with. Reconsider scheduling a playdate for Thursday if Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are already filled with extra-curricular activities and sporting events.
When you work on balance, you are also showing your children that it is okay to say no, as well as the importance of self-care. By being present and modeling the positive behaviors you want your children to exhibit is a learning process for everyone.
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