Our children are growing up in a world where instant gratification is the norm. We grow frustrated when a text takes more than five seconds to send or when shipping takes more than two days; our children grow frustrated when they cannot have a new toy this moment or when they have to wait for a new video game to download. Our world is quickly changing to ask less and less of our patience.
We know, though, that there are many benefits to being patient. Patience improves our physical, emotional, and social health. When we are patient, we experience less stress and a lower likelihood for various health-related issues like high blood pressure or stomach issues. We experience more optimism and feelings of joy (rather than feelings of anger or anxiety) and demonstrate better decision-making. And in regards to our social lives, patience fosters empathy and respect for others and strengthens our relationships with others. As you can see from the many benefits, patience is an important skill. But like any other skill, it requires lots of practice.
How, then, can we support our children - who know no world other than the current quick-paced one in which we live - in practicing patience?
1. Reflect with your child
Practicing patience with your child will be difficult unless you start with a direct and clear conversation. In this talk, you can learn what your child already knows and meet them where they are. By the end of the conversation, ensure that your child knows what patience is and why it is important. Try some of these starters and questions to help guide your conversation:
Do you know what patience is?
Patience is being able to wait for something while having a positive attitude and without getting upset. It can be difficult sometimes!
Can you think of some times when it is difficult to be patient? Is it harder to be patient when you are tired or hungry?
What would happen if nobody was ever patient?
What would happen if more people were patient?
How do you feel when you are impatient? Is it a feeling you like?(Video) How to Develop Patience with Your Kids
Do we make good decisions when we are impatient with someone or something?
How do you think others feel when we are impatient with them?
If your child seems unsure how to identify their own impatience or know how it feels, offer your own examples of how you feel when you are impatient. Also consider checking out our other post on the physiological signs of anger. Many of these bodily responses to anger are similar to our bodily responses when we are irritated or very impatient.
2. Discuss triggers
When practicing patience, it is really helpful to know what situations really test your patience. Impatience often occurs when we have both a goal and an expectation of how much effort or time it will take us to reach that goal. Rather than starting this conversation by telling your child when they need to practice more, ask them if they recognize their own triggers. Do they grow impatient while at the store and knowing they cannot get a new toy until next week? Or when waiting for a sibling to finish their turn with the new game? Work together to reflect on difficult situations. Knowing what triggers your child’s impatience will help them (and you) take greater control over these situations and their patience.
3. Fill your toolbox with strategies
All right, so you and your child know what situations really test their patience. Now what? Get a plan in place! Try practicing various strategies together and finding your favorites! When you and your child know their patience will soon be tested (think of their triggers), encourage them to pull a strategy from their toolbox and have it ready.
If you are impatient with another person or group, try to take yourself out of your own mind, and think about their perspective. Why might they be acting this way? What are their reasons? How would they feel if you responded with impatience and irritation? If you are not impatient with a person, but rather with a situation, take a step back and look at the situations from more perspectives. Is this irritating situation actually benefiting you? Is it ensuring you stay safe or is it going to bring joy soon?
While you wait, talk yourself up! Tell yourself that you are doing a good job and that you CAN do this. Think about how exercising this kind of patience is making you a better person. Even put a small smile on your face to let yourself know that you are doing a great job and practicing patience.
Review the goal and expectations
When impatience does take us by surprise, we can take advantage of the moment to learn about ourselves. Ask yourself, what was my goal? What were my expectations? How much time or effort did I assume would be required to reach this goal? We may realize our expectations were somewhat unrealistic in light of the goal we wanted to achieve. For example, it may not be realistic to expect kids to be dressed and ready to go in five minutes when it is winter and they need many more layers on.
Rather than say “Just breathe,” use structured exercises to better practice this strategy. There are so many breathing exercises that are great for children. You might count to a certain number while you inhale, hold, and exhale. You might put your pointer finger in front of you and pretend to smell a flower, and then blow out a candle. On our app, Wisdom: The World of Emotions, we have an Augmented Reality (AR) activity where the app’s main character guides children in a breathing exercise; give it a try!
Remaining patient can be difficult if the situation is the only thing on your mind. Try listening to some music, mentally planning out your day tomorrow, or doing a quick stretch. You can play fun games like naming five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. You can even think of three things you are grateful for or visualize your happy place to distract you from the current situation and focus on positivity.
If immediately shifting to patience feels too difficult, consider getting some distance first (if the situation allows). Take a step outside or move to a new seat. Changing your scenery can relieve the impatience that you were feeling in another setting. Once you have had time to self-talk, take perspective, and breathe, you can return and try again with patience.
4. Remember that perfection is not the goal
As stated earlier, patience is a skill that must be practiced. The tools listed above are not always easy, but we improve with time and effort. When your child is successfully patient, make sure to show them you notice and give praise! You can additionally help their practice by reflecting on it throughout. Ask them what tools they used to stay patient and how the feelings in their bodies changed when they did.
As we practice patience, we are bound to slip up. That is expected, and that is fine. Perfection is not the goal and it is not even possible. Make sure that you and your child are forgiving of yourselves and of others when practicing patience. Set realistic goals and expectations, and be ready for difficult challenges that do not go smoothly and require some reflection. Practice and growth are the goals - not perfection.