Teaching Kids to Have Patience
"Wait your turn." "Wait 'til you're bigger." We often ask kids to be patient, but developing this value takes time. Patience is the ability to endure a difficult situation without complaining. It means showing self-control and staying calm in the face of frustration or boredom. When you're patient, you understand that some things are worth waiting for. But patience isn’t only passive waiting--it means persevering when things get tough. Adults as well as kids often get frustrated if they don’t see immediate results. But at any age it's important to wait for the right time to speak or act.
Talk About Time
Remember how long five minutes seemed when you were little? Kids start out with no concept of time, so telling them that "Dinner will be ready in five minutes" is meaningless. Start by talking about the sequence of activities--“First we'll go to the park. Then we'll have lunch. Then it will be time to play with your friends." You can also make time concrete by checking off each day on a calendar leading up to a special event. Around school age, when children learn to tell time, they often begin to show greater patience. Wearing a watch helps them monitor the time and achieve a sense of control.
Play Waiting Games
You can help kids learn to wait by suggesting something fun to pass the time, like drawing, singing, or pretending their stuffed animals are waiting too. Playing games that build patience, like puzzles or chess for older kids, helps children learn to deal with frustration.
Make a Wish List
When your child has a bad case of the “gimmes” and demands a toy right away, acknowledge the wish (“You wish you could have that toy right now”). Have your child add it to a “wish list” of presents he or she might receive at the next birthday or gift-giving holiday. The simple act of writing down (or drawing or cutting out a magazine picture of the present) gives your child control and increases patience.
Take a Leaf from Nature
Nature provides many examples of the rewards of patience. Plants and trees take time to grow--they cannot be rushed. Let your children help you plant a garden or grow flowers in a pot. You can show your child how nurturing plants with water, plant food, and sunlight will allow them to blossom when the time is right.
Teach Impulse Control
It’s important to help your child control his or her impulses and learn to wait. If your child wants something, like a new sweater or pierced ears, don’t rush to provide it or agree to it. Wait a set period of time to help the child assess whether this is something he or she really wants.
Give kids an allowance and encourage them to save up for something big. This will help them develop the patience to plan and wait for a significant item. When your children get impatient over homework, show them how to break big projects down into smaller component parts. This will help them persevere and build good work habits.
Create a quiet, comfortable “calm down” spot in your home with no distractions. Encourage your kids to spend some quiet time there when they feel stressed or frustrated. Teach your children techniques that calm frustration, such as taking five deep breaths, using words to describe their feelings (“I feel frustrated,” “I feel tired of waiting”), and saying positive messages to themselves silently, such as “Calm down,” “Stay in control,” and “I can wait.”
Be Slow to Anger
Model adult forms of patience by not honking (or cursing) when stuck in traffic. If you’re in a situation where you’re waiting for a long time (in a doctor’s office, at a restaurant), speak up politely rather than get angry. Kids are watching and learning.
Stress Long-Term Rewards
Share with your kids the ways in which you’re saving to pay for their education, and have them join you in putting away money for college. Help them recognize that patience and perseverance--when combined with well-timed action--can bring long-term rewards.