Seeing a sad parent with a child throwing tantrums or screaming their lungs out in the supermarket aisles (or elsewhere) for a lack of patience is heartbreaking. It’s even more disappointing if the child is older than six or seven years or a teenager. Of course, this behavior may be attributed to some disorders, but sometimes it’s simply because the child can’t wait.
Younger children start to be self-centered and impulsive. But amazingly, as they get older, you can help shape their behavior from selfishness to selflessness and impulsiveness to patience.
Why teach your child patience
Today, instant gratification is the model of every company. If you want a movie, you don’t have to rent it and wait in line for other customers to return it. If you want a hot meal, you can have it delivered quickly. So why would you want to cultivate patience in children when they have it all at their fingertips?
Efficiency is crucial in the modern world, no doubt. However, studies have shown children who grow into patient adults have better social skills, improved mental and physical health, and are more likely to achieve their goals.
How to teach your children to be patient
1. Be a role model
Children learn from their parents. They see what you do when stuck in traffic or a long line. So try to control your anger or outbursts instead of acting anxious in these situations. Listen to music, solve a quick puzzle, or even take the time to speak with your child.
Another way to model being patient is by sharing your stories. Share your successes and failures and the role that patience (or lack of it) played in them.
2. Use active and reflective listening
Younger children may be unable to express their feelings using words. They may not know how to say they are frustrated or angry, so help them verbalize their feelings. They may naturally wait longer when you show they understand their feelings.
“I know that this is taking too long. But you’re doing a great job waiting, kudos!” Also, you can pretend-gossip to your partner or anyone you’re with. “Isn’t Brian doing a good job waiting today?”
3. Positive reinforcement
Praising children for their patience or effort can help them become more patient. However, avoid negative reinforcements like giving them gifts, candy, or other “bribes.”
4. Use activities to teach patience
Teaching patience can look different when dealing with various ages. For younger children, especially those below two years, selflessness isn’t “natural.” So use activities that focus on repetition and model giving or helping others.
Activities such as taking turns, jigsaw puzzles, and egg and spoon walks are great for children five or older. For younger children, “Pass the Parcel” is another excellent game. Here, wrap the gift in several layers, and every person unwraps one layer until the last person finally reveals what’s in the parcel.
You can also include baking, gardening, and making grocery shopping lists for older children above five or six. Also, cultivate empathy by taking them through real-time events and what it would feel to be in that person’s shoes.
5. Use patience-stretching technique
This technique is like working out because the results are seen gradually. Say your child wants a toy from you. The trick is almost to give them what they want. Repeat back, “Toy! You want a toy!” Begin to hand it over to them, say, “Hold on, wait a second!” then turn away and pretend to look for something.
After about five seconds, return and immediately give them whatever they request. Quickly rewarding them teaches them that patience isn’t bad and, in the end, they get what they want. Keep increasing the interval, and you’ll build their self-control over time.
Remember, this isn’t like teasing; you pretend you’ll give them something and then withhold it altogether.
6. Use a timer
A timer is an excellent tool for helping your child visualize their wait. It can help when you are busy, but your child begs for your attention. “Give Daddy a few seconds, and when Mr. Tick-Tock rings, I’ll read you a story.”
However, make sure you give yourself enough time to keep your promise.
7. Help them develop strategies for waiting
You can help your child find unique ways to keep their mind busy while waiting. For instance, experts recommend asking them to be their favorite superhero while waiting. Once they embody their favorite superhero, children are imaginative and may be more patient.
8. Understand the context and age
Five-year-olds are in kindergarten and may understand other people’s worldviews better than a 3-year-old. So when asking your child to be patient, it should be age-specific and context-specific. For example, you can’t expect a child to wait for food for more than an hour in a restaurant, so order something as you wait or distract them with a book or game.
On the other hand, if your child, especially an older one, is behaving “like a spoiled child,” stop it consistently and sternly.
9. Consider preschool
Children as young as three begin to understand the world from other people’s perspectives. To ensure your child learns patience early, consider taking them to preschool. Otherwise, a self-centered and impatient child will be shunned by teachers and other children from kindergarten onward — they will find it challenging to adjust.
Patience is an underrated virtue, especially in our culture of instant gratification. Luckily, there are strategies to instill patience in your children, such as using reward-stretching techniques or activities that model patience.
Remember, acquiring patience is gradual, and even adults have a hard time. So as you teach your child delayed gratification, be patient.