It’s Time to Stop Waiting for Patience

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As parents we sometimes have a tendency to comment on how our children are perfect little angels.  This, of course, could not be further from the truth.  For all the love and joy they have to offer, the little rapscallions are imperfect in many ways and can test our patience repeatedly.  My daughter is no exception.

Recently my wife and I made a tally of the main areas of focus for our daughter:

  • Lose the binky
  • Become potty trained
  • Learn to share with others
  • Develop patience

All four of these are of prime importance, for differing reasons, but we both agreed that two of these had risen to the top of the child improvement pyramid:  sharing and learning patience.  And since I am of the opinion that an improved patience will lend itself better to sharing than the other way around, teaching my daughter to wait for things has planted the flag firmly on the mountaintop.

Being the stay at home father that I am, it has fallen upon me to spearhead our efforts in teaching our 2-year-old patience.  And that meant I was going to have to do some research and find some help.

I, of course, first turned to the internet for guidance.  So I fired up the old Google Machine and performed a search on teaching children patience.  I first stumbled across Kaboose and their article on the subject.  The piece unfortunately didn’t provide any step-by-step tips, instead opting for general advice and the importance of instilling patience in children so that they learn to be patient adults, but it did provide the following guidelines:

  • Lead by Example:  In other words, try to avoid hurrying up children yourself.  When I read this I immediately thought of pretty much every single weekday morning, especially when I was gainfully employed.  The morning can be a hectic and stressful time, especially when you have to get three people fed, clothed, and out the door in a short period of time.  We often need to rush our daughter along so that we can make it to work on time and this is likely contributing to her difficulty waiting for things herself.
  • Perform Patience-Building Activities:  Two good examples that were provided were growing plants from seeds and playing board games.  While board games are a bit beyond my 2-year-old, they do teach the importance of taking turns and waiting on others.  Growing plants from seeds, however, is definitely something I could enjoy with her at this age.  Over time she will see how seeds turn into to sprouts and then full-blown plants.  The message?  Good things take time.
  • Use Visual Reinforcement:  Like with board games, this is probably a bit beyond my daughter, but the concept is to use timers and the like when making children wait for something they want.  Interesting.

On the whole, Kaboose proved to be a good start, but I needed a bit more hand-holding.  I turned to Parenting.com at that point which quoted the following five simple steps for teaching patience:

“Don’t come running every time she asks you to do something, like put new batteries in a toy, says Lonna Corder, director of the Playgroup, a Montessori school in San Francisco. “Say, ‘I can’t do that right now,’ so she doesn’t get hooked on immediate gratification,” she recommends.
Praise your child when she holds her horses. It’ll reinforce the behavior.
Do projects together that require patience. For example, sprinkle grass seeds over moist soil in a cup, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it on a sunny window sill, Corder suggests. In a few days, your child can enjoy the sprouts.
Break out a sand timer occasionally. If your child’s taking turns on the computer with her brother, it’ll give her a visual of how the time is passing.
Deliver on promises. Don’t say you’ll take her to the park after lunch, and start the laundry instead. “Your child needs to trust that if she waits, you’ll come through,” [executive director of the Reginald S. Lourie Center for Infants and Young Children in Rockville, MD, Tracye] Polson says.”

As you can see there is some definite overlap here between the two pieces.  Both of the sites stress the importance of using a timer and performing patience-building activities—with the plant-growing example used yet again!—but Parenting also tosses in some solid common sense reminders.  While admittedly fairly obvious, the importance of remembering to take control, praise good behavior, and not lie to the child to calm her down should not be underestimated.

Still, I yearned for a bit more guidance than these two articles could provide.  Thankfully Harvey Karp’s book The Happiest Toddler on the Block came to the rescue with its patience-stretching technique.  The idea is simple:  make the child wait for something she wants for a few seconds and then stretch that time out over the following days and weeks.

A real-life example:  Audrey frequently comes over to me and tugs on my leg saying “Raisins!” or something similar.  Now instead of simply telling her to wait, ignoring her, or rushing over to get her a box, Dr. Karp suggests that you immediately acknowledge the child’s needs by saying something like, “Audrey wants raisins?  Okay, Audrey wants raisins!”  The next step is to get the raisins calmly and without rushing.  Upon getting the box, don’t immediately hand it to the bouncing hyperactive child, however.  Let her see you have the raisins, but delay giving them to her for about five seconds by pretending to either be distracted by someone or looking for something.  “Oh, wait, I forgot one little thing over here…”  Then, after the five seconds are up, turn your attention back to her, hand her the box, and reward her patience by saying “Good waiting, Audrey!” or something similar.

The idea is that you act similarly with everything your child demands for and then up the time to ten seconds the following day.  Then, assuming you’ve kept it up, bump that up to fifteen or twenty seconds the day after that, and so on.

Dr. Karp suggests that you’ll see dramatic improvement in just a week’s time if you stick to your guns.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to stick to my guns over the next week and see how much improvement I can make.  Because right now Audrey’s patience is pretty close to zero and that needs to change.  In a week’s time I’ll let you know how well I’ve done.  Until then all I ask of you is one thing:

Please pray for me.

Thank you.

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