How to Teach Patience to a Child, Teaching Kids Patience | ParentCircle (2023)

Patience is a difficult value to practice for adults, let alone children. Let's look at how we can inculcate this value in our children

The doorbell rang and when I opened the door, a courier handed over the package we had been waiting for. A set of endearing arctic toy animals chosen by my five-year-old daughter as her birthday present had finally arrived. My wife and I were relieved that it was delivered well before her birthday. As we were trying to figure out how and where to hide the box, my little one seemed to have eavesdropped on our conversation. "I want it right now," she demanded, even as her impatient eyes revealed her characteristic naughtiness.

We were used to giving in to several such demands because they seemed mostly benign and we also found it somewhat cruel to deprive her of the easy joys of childhood. But now it was different - since the last few months, we had been working hard on ourselves and with her to empower her to be patient. We gave her a big smile, reminded her that her birthday was still three days away, and suggested that we could use this time to make some exciting gifts for the little animals so that they also have a good time on her birthday. She gave us a somewhat dismal look at first but then joined us in making clothes and play dough figures for the animals.

There was a time when my daughter wanted almost anything and everything she fancied, and she wanted it superfast. It was extremely hard for her to take a 'no'. Waiting for things to happen at their natural pace made her really uncomfortable. Those were the days when the most common phrase we heard her saying was, "No! I want it now." And whatever she didn't like, she wanted us to take it away from her life almost as quickly. The struggle to catch up with her rational and irrational demands was becoming stressful for the whole family.

One fine day we spent a couple of hours in deep introspection trying to figure out where we were going wrong. Promptly came the answer - too much love! In our endeavor to shower her with unconditional love, we had simply forgotten that it was equally important to make her understand that life is also about restrictions and conditions. We decided to change ourselves and encourage her to develop patience. Slowly, steadily, and with a lot of determination, we seem to be getting there.

What is patience and why we can't do without it?

Patience is the ability to accept, endure and navigate frustration. It allows us to face postponement, struggle, and suffering without losing our mental calm, and empowers us to come up with constructive coping mechanisms. This amazing capacity to wait -

  • infuses our life with positivity
  • gives us hope during difficult times
  • helps us find a way through small and big stressors of life
  • equips us to develop deeper relationships with others
  • inspires us to achieve our goals by transcending various obstacles

No wonder, patience has been considered a virtue since ancient times.

In our contemporary life, patience continues to hold an important place - whether it is an appointment with a pediatrician, a weekend visit to the nearby mall, dining out, attending a social event, chasing a goal at the workplace, acquiring possessions, or traveling in the peak hours of traffic, the world moves at its own pace. More often than not, we end up spending a considerable time of our lives adjusting to this pace and waiting for things to happen. Most of us have learned to make some peace with this reality and have found our unique ways to navigate it smoothly. However, it is a whole new ball game for children.

Because toddlers have a fledgling frontal cortex that lacks self-control mechanisms to delay gratification, they can't wait, and they can't take no for an answer. Nonetheless, we need to find ways to introduce the idea of having to wait, so that slowly and steadily, their brains get ready to practice patience. Otherwise, their low level of frustration tolerance will make it difficult for them to deal with the stress of not being gratified immediately.

In a longitudinal study conducted at the Duke University, Moffitt and her colleagues (2011) found that childhood measures of self-control and patience are very strong predictors of adult health, adjustment, and well-being. They believe that one of the biggest social objectives in the 21st century is inculcating patience, restraint, and reason in our children.

In a similar vein, the classic marshmallow experiment conducted by Walter Mischel (1970) and colleagues at Stanford University had researchers giving one marshmallow to each child and leaving him with a choice that he could either have it immediately or wait for 15 minutes till the researcher came back. The child was told that if he did not eat the marshmallow while the researcher was away, he would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. While some children ate the marshmallow as soon as the researcher was out of sight, others tried to distract themselves and managed to wait for the reward. The research followed these children over a period of several years and concluded that those who waited patiently for the rewards had better life outcomes as compared to those who gave in to their impulses instantly.

Of course, teaching kids how to be patient isn't easy because as soon as one starts this process, one is often greeted with temper tantrums. But, it's crucial to keep trying and not give up. Here are a few techniques that I have been using to help my daughter develop patience.

Develop empathy

Young children lack the neuronal hardware, psychological wisdom, and affirmative experiences to convince them of the value of patience, and then put it to practice. Reaching the stage where they can delay gratification as adults do is genuinely difficult for them. When faced with the impulsivity of my daughter, I reflect on how I thought, felt, and behaved when I was a young child. When in doubt, I ask my mom to fill in the blanks. Doing this makes me realize that I was quite impatient as a child, and even now as an adult with good self-control, I am impatient sometimes. All this self-reflection enables me to look at my daughter's world through her eyes, feel empathy for her struggles - and I take it easy. As a result, we bond exceptionally well, often working together as a team facing challenges and building forbearance. Developing and expressing empathy for your child will reassure him that he is not alone in his struggles and that you are always there to understand and help him.

What you can do right away to develop empathy for your child

  • Remember your own childhood and adulthood struggles around delaying gratification, and observe them mindfully.
  • Encourage your child to talk openly about his difficulties around waiting, while you try your best to see his world through his eyes - with empathy.
  • Share some of your own frustrations with your child - allow him to empathize with you.
  • Work together as a team to help your child develop empathy.

Introduce an element of fun

Children are open to new ideas and suggestions if they find them exciting. Giving them a long lecture on the value of patience and expecting them to be motivated to follow your advice like a perfect student is asking too much of them. I discovered that my daughter would be interested in developing resilience if she found the waiting experience somewhat novel, rewarding, and entertaining. Therefore, whenever I ask her to wait for something, I try to keep her happily occupied through new ideas, creative activities, songs, and games. That way she does not feel alone in the waiting experience and she has started looking forward to it.

What you can do right away to introduce an element of fun during the waiting period

  • Play antakshari,the Indian song game
  • Make figures out of play dough
  • Taking turns to tell each other self-made silly stories
  • Provide paper and colors to explore artistic expression
  • Make soap bubbles and have fun trying to catch them
  • Try to hunt shapes and colors together in your surroundings

Be a role model

It is a common trend among parents to give long lectures to children highlighting their impatience and nagging them to be tolerant. But the little ones don't care much about such lectures. In fact, they end up feeling all the more annoyed, resentful, and defiant. Actions are always more powerful than words, therefore one of the best ways of getting through to them is to practice what we intend to preach. Motivating my daughter to wait peacefully became easier as I started working hard on myself to be serene at home and to deal with her calmly on all matters. When I don't lose my cool during stressful times, she seems to value it, looks up to it, and tries to imbibe it in her own way.

What you can do right away to inspire your child to develop self-control

  • Start your day by visualizing yourself as being extremely serene and aspiring to practice patience.
  • Revisit this aspiration several times during the day.
  • Whenever things seem to be going out of control, take a short break and make your breath calmer.
  • Indulge in your favorite pastime every day to feel good about life.

Go slow

We are living in a very fast-paced world where everything is expected to happen instantly. No wonder, we unconsciously want well-behaved children in one go. But this is an unrealistic expectation because a deeper look at nature tells us that speed is artificial, flow is natural - wind, water, plants, birds, and animals - everything which is not manmade follows its own trajectory at its own pace. There are no fast-forward buttons and changes happen in a paced organic manner.

I was shocked to learn that I had been putting a lot of unconscious pressure on my daughter to grow up quickly. And when I decided to opt out of this self-imposed marathon, I started giving her ample time and space to mature, and she values it a lot. She doesn't have to be an adult in the next one week, month, or even year. There is a long way to go and I remind myself to enjoy the baby steps she is taking. Slowing down has prevented me from putting too much pressure on my daughter, and has helped me set realistic expectations of her. This allows her to develop patience at her pace.

What you can do right away to walk at your child's pace

  • Spend time in nature walking by the beach, watching the rising sun, or observing birds carry on with their daily business.
  • Always start with smaller targets while developing patience, and slowly increase their complexity.
  • Appreciate and celebrate the minute positive changes that your child brings in her behavior.

Reclaim the piggybank

In recent times, there is an increasing cultural impatience across various age groups over buying consumer goods. The current generation loves to buy things to fulfill their fantasies, enhance their self-esteem, and have fun and pleasure in their life. Children growing up in this culture buy things on impulse and want things instantly. As soon as I understood this, I tried to bring back the concept of the good old piggy bank in our home.

The piggybank not only teaches us the value of saving money but also encourages us to patiently earn our rewards and wait for things to happen. If my daughter wants to buy a new toy without beyond a special occasion, I give her small amounts of money every day that she can save in her piggy bank. We wait till enough has been accumulated and then we buy the toy from the savings. This way my daughter gets to learn that toys are expensive, money is valuable, so she must save money to buy what she wants. In doing this she also learns to wait patiently and happily to reach her goal. The piggybank has enabled my daughter to contain her impulses for instant gratification and her impatience has gone down across different situations.

What you can do right away to help your child reclaim the piggybank

  • Whenever your child wants a new toy, tell her that you all must save money for it in her piggy bank.
  • Offer her a small allowance daily to be put in the piggy bank and count the amount every Sunday to figure out how far you are from the magical figure.
  • When enough funds are accumulated, open the piggy bank and buy the toy.

In a nutshell

  • Encouraging your child to be patient is one of the greatest gifts you can give her. The best things in life rarely come to us instantly, and the capacity to wait keeps us goal-oriented.
  • As you get down to teach your child some patience, you need to acknowledge that learning to be serene takes time and continuous effort.
  • Be very patient with your child. Give her ample time and space to acquire this capacity at her own pace.
  • Break a complex goal into smaller components, introduce some element of fun, and moderate your expectations. You can make this journey interesting and enjoyable for yourself and your child.

What you can do right away

  • Be a good role model by keeping calm.
  • Work as a team with your child. Use creative and fun ideas to make the waiting period interesting.
  • Always start with small targets, slowly increasing their complexity.
  • Appreciate your child's efforts and small gains as she learns to become more patient.


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