There is a fine art to teaching children patience. I am sure I am not alone when I say that this is a far cry from being an easy era in which to raise children. Some days I take pause in order to step back and view the world with a bird’s eye, and wonder how on earth are we all going to make it through – as parents or caregivers – without finding our way into the very heart of a straitjacket?
We are bombarded continually with media, friends, and family informing us with their own concepts of best parenting practices. Many of these include ideas such as what and what not to feed our children, how and how not to prepare food, what and what not to allow into our children’s bodies, what and what not to put ON to their bodies, how much more dangerous the world is these days yet at the same time it is statistically much safer than it used to be… and on and on.
We are judged for not being disciplining enough with our children while in the very same breath, we are judged for being too harsh of a parent. Everyone sees the world through various filters and preconceptions, born of their own beliefs and experiences. And we may at times find ourselves spinning in the madness of it all.
We may find that we need to take a step back from everything, discipline ourselves into coming back to our own parenting center. By this, I mean that when we feel we are being overrun by the world around us, we need to come back to the essence of who we are, as parents, at our very core – so that we may set boundaries with those around us.
And that also includes setting boundaries with our own children. In doing so, we are aiding them in gaining confidence in setting boundaries for themselves. From toddler-hood onward, children practice setting boundaries and testing limits with their parents.
And in this age of the internet and ‘instant gratification’, it is becoming increasingly difficult to not only find the strength of patience within ourselves, but to teach the importance and value of patience to our children.
This following excerpt from Kim John Payne in his new book, The Soul of Discipline, really hit home with me today. I have been struggling with this very issue with my two youngest. They are both incredibly strong willed, and incredibly impatient.
I have tried many different angles in order to get them to understand that they can’t have precisely what they want, when they want it. This has included the method that Kim speaks of – telling the children that when they demand something “now”, it will automatically be a “no”.
If your child wants something “now”, let her know the w always drops off when she wants to know the answer right away, turning “now” into “no.” One dad told me, “The worst parenting decisions I make, the ones I really regret later on, are when I respond too quickly to a demand from my son.”
We have gotten so used to living in an “on-demand” world that we are in danger of letting it spill over into our relationships with our kids and what they expect from us. Teachers and school counselors will tell you that the number one reason kids get into trouble at school these days is poor impulse control. Help your children exercise their “waiting muscle” when they demand an instant response. You are not giving them a hard time but building up an essential skill. Little by little, request by request, they will grow stronger as they learn to wait for your response.
Our kids are stepping into a world in which an increasing number of jobs will be contract based or part-time. Many of them will need to be self-employed self-starters. Patience and a good sense of timing will be critical skills in such a competitive future. They will need to be able to wait until they see an opportunity and then seize it. Children used to learn this ancient skill when hunting. If you didn’t know how to hold back, to wait quickly, and if you had poor timing, you went hungry. Impulse control was linked, in the most basic way possible, to survival.
If a child can’t connect the ability to control impulses with accomplishment, he will become weaker willed as he grows up. And more important, he will become more rather than less dependent. This puts an entire generation of children at risk and turns child development on its head.
It is up to us to stem this tide. Every parent wants his or her child to grow stronger and more autonomous. With the exercises and techniques provided in this chapter, you can build your child’s healthy compliance. If you do the groundwork day by day, you can help your children learn to control their impulses.
When a child pushes you and you give in, she gets the answer she wants and learns to do it again and again. Children who do this make sure to catch their parents by surprise because a distracted parent is much more likely to say yes. Changing that habit will take some preparation. Start with a brief conversation with your child. Say something like this: “From now on, Toby, if you ask me a question, I’m going to take the time I need to give you an answer. If you want an answer right away, you will get one, but it will be a no, and I will mean it.”
When we show children on this basic level that we need time to pause and think, we are modeling exactly what it is we are asking them to do. We might say, “Just wait a few seconds” or “I’ll sleep on it,” but either way we are not only asking that they develop patience and good timing but also practicing it ourselves. If we do this effectively, they will begin to mirror us.