“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…” You are in the middle of a phone call and it starts. The incessant name-saying and forceful arm-tugging. While “Mom” is one of my very favorite names, allowing this conduct is not teaching our children socially acceptable behavior nor is it giving them the opportunity to gain a real virtue…patience.
It is a blessing to possess patience. With it we can weather storms, delay gratification, and remain calm. Without it stress is sky-high and opportunities are lost. Patience may be required over long periods of time and for varying levels of annoyance. So how can we help our kids gain profound patience? We can start with small, daily occurrences, like waiting for Mom or Dad’s attention. Hopefully as our kids practice and master being patient in this situation, their skills will carry over to harder and longer situations.
Here are seven simple steps to teach our kids patience.
1. Name It
- Telling our kids to “Just be patient!” (even if we say it in a very calm, cool, and collected way) will not do any good if these youngsters do not know what patient means. The first step in growing patient children is being very clear about what is expected. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines patient as “putting up with pains or hardships calmly or without complaint.” For my little guys, we say, “Patience is waiting nicely.”
- Paint a picture of what waiting nicely looks like, sounds like, and feels like. For example, waiting nicely looks like keeping your hands still (not pulling on Mommy), it sounds quiet, and it feels calm like deep breathing or gentle waves. Can you show me patience?
2. Create a Child Signal
- Too often we tell our kids what not to do instead of what they SHOULD do. Let us help make their path clear. When are the times you would like your children to be patient? Examples are when you are on the phone, talking to another adult, or conversing with another child. Tell your child these times or how to recognize when patience is expected. Make a plan for how you want your child to get your attention during these times. One friend has her son put his hand on her elbow. Maybe your child can whisper, “When you’re done please.” Pick something that works for both of you. This is the child signal.
3. Create a Parent Signal
- It is much easier for all of us to wait nicely when we know there is an end in sight. How will your child know there is an end of waiting coming soon? Create a parent signal. This is a signal you send to your child that means, “I understand you want my attention. Please wait patiently for a moment and you will get it.” This signal can also be used at times when your child does not recognize that patience is needed (or forgets his signal. 😉 For my friend with the elbow touch, she places her other hand over his (or taps her elbow if he forgets). You could flash a thumbs up, touch your nose, or put your hand on your child’s shoulder. Any quiet signal will work.
4. Count It Out
- Some kids can go back to playing while they wait. Others cannot switch mindsets until you have responded. This is the kind of child that has a harder time avoiding the arm pull. These kids are often very energetic and passionate. Let’s not squash that energy in our attempts to socialize our children (or our attempts to prevent ourselves from going crazy!). So what is your child supposed to do while she waits patiently? Count it out. This is where you make it a game. How long can she wait? How high can she count in her head? (My little guy usually gets to at least 100, although he can’t count past 30 yet. 😉 This diverts the little mind and usually produces a smile when all is said and done.
5. Practice It
- Like all new behaviors, patience needs to be modeled and practiced. You be the patient one first. Hand your child the phone or a book. Approach them and give the child signal. Then wait. If your little one forgets the parent signal, quietly remind them. Count in your head and model the ideal waiting. Your child will probably test how long you can go. They will love being the adult and making you wait. You can do it! Hang in there Mama! 😉 When they are done, be excited about how long you were able to wait patiently. “Wow! I waited patiently until the count of 47!” Switch roles and do it until you are both sure and capable of the ideal.
6. Make It Work
- These are steps to help your child wait patiently for you, not to help your child be ignored by you. If you want your children to stick with the system, you need to make it work for them. Be realistic in how long you expect them to wait. Recognize that older kids should be able to wait longer than younger ones. When you are ready to respond, give your child your full attention.
7. Praise It
- When your child successfully uses any part of the system, let them know. Be specific about what you appreciate. Use phrases like, “That is so great that you remembered to use your signal.” “Thank you so much for your patience. You waited so quietly.”
- Also praise patience when you see it in other people. Point out good examples of patience wherever you see them be it a sibling or cartoon character.
- Help your kids see the blessings of patience in their own lives and others’. “I was just talking on the phone with a person who is not feeling well. Because you were so patient, our conversation went quickly and she can go to sleep and get better sooner. It was very kind of you to be so patient. We both appreciate that.” “Did you see how patiently he waited in that line? If he had not been patient he never would have gotten that treat.” “That was sure nice of your sister to wait patiently for her turn. Are you glad she waited so you could use that for so long?” Also tell true stories from your own life of times when you were blessed by patience. Stories are an excellent teaching tool.