It’s Time to Stop Waiting for Patience—Part Two

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Last week I initiated a campaign to improve my daughter’s patience.  She had gotten bossy, and unwilling to wait for her demands to be met.  I had to step up as the Alpha Dog and teach this young upstart that the old saying is generally correct:

Good things do come to those who wait.

I did some research on techniques to gradually increase waiting time and settled on the following plan:

  1. Start by making her wait five seconds for something she wants.  If she manages to hold tight, then I give her what she wants and praise her patience.
  2. Increase the time to 10 seconds in the following days, still praising her for successful behavior.  If the ten-second threshold is achieved, increase the time yet again.
  3. Wash, rinse, and repeat, increasing the time each step of the way.

So how did I do?  Did I manage to make any progress?  Let’s find out.

Last week I asked for you, my lovely and attractive readers, to pray for me.  Well, I’m happy to report that your prayers made a world of difference.  The Patience Plan has been thus far pretty darn successful.

When I started making Audrey wait 5 seconds for raisins, her binky, Teddy, Monkey, or whatever else she had her mind on at the time, I acknowledged her request, but pretended to be delayed by something before giving up the prize.  I’d act like I had a question for my wife, stuff like that.  The effect of this was two-fold:

  1. It made me feel a bit guilty.  Not much, but a little.
  2. It did little to calm Audrey down.

While I’m sure if I had kept this up she would have eventually calmed down, I tried a different tactic:  counting out the seconds.  For example, if Audrey wanted juice, I would tell her that I understood she wanted the juice.  I would then casually get the juice—no rushing!—and bring it to her.  But before handing it over, I would tell her that she had to wait for it.  I’d then begin counting to five out loud.  Once at five, I’d give her the juice and praise her for waiting.

I was amazed to find that this worked like gangbusters.

When I counted out loud Audrey quickly followed suit, counting along with me.  And she didn’t do it grudgingly either.  She was enthusiastic and cheerful, using her fingers and everything.  The pride she felt upon successfully counting with me and getting her prize was obvious.  It was written all over her face.

After only a half day of this she surprised me yet again.  She started initiating the counting herself!  Let’s say I had to get the juice again.  I’d do the same as above, telling her that she had to wait for it.  This time, however, she started counting to five herself, without any other provocation.  And let me repeat:  this was only after a few hours.  I really couldn’t believe it.

The transition from 5 seconds to 10 seconds was easy.  There were a few times where she expected to get whatever she wanted at five, but I simply told her we had to count to ten this time.  She didn’t complain, and just continued counting a mere five numbers higher.  Sometimes she’d even go past 10 seconds to twelve or thirteen.

(A funny aside:  This technique had the humorous effect of teaching her that she always got her prize on the number five.  For example, when counting to ten she’d end with, “Nine…ten…eleven…twelve…FIVE!”  Cute.)

As of today—one week after the start—I’m at 15 seconds as the waiting threshold.  I’ll probably go up to twenty in the coming days and leave it at that.  Going past twenty seems a bit much. Mostly because she has begun forgetting what she wanted in the first place!  When I bumped the time up to fifteen, it had the effect of being just a long enough amount of time to make her forget about the prize almost entirely.  I’m not sure how much I like the fact that she loses the impulse to get what she had wanted, but it does show how unimportant these wants generally are.  I’ll have to keep an eye on this.

Nevertheless, things have gone about as good as I could have hoped.  She’s waiting much better than she ever has before, which is a godsend.  She doesn’t boss me around as much and when she wants something she’s generally nicer about it.  Her ability to count is much improved too.  I didn’t plan on this side effect, but I certainly won’t complain about it either.  Prior to last week she would always skip the number six when counting to ten. Now, however?  She’s hitting six each time.

That’s progress, baby!

Still, I can’t count on the counting trick forever.  She has to learn to wait without it.  So that’s my next goal.  While I do still plan on going to twenty, I’m going to start pulling back on the counting.  If she’s able to wait without this little exercise, then I know my plan has really worked.  If not, then the counting—while beneficial mathematically—has proven itself to be a mere distraction.

Either way, the success I feel as a father is a palpable one.

In many instances it’s easy to think of all the deficiencies I have as a parent.  I look at my daughter and see the aspects of her character and behavior—like impatience—that could use improvement.  And while I know deep down that I’m still a good parent despite these so-called black marks, I can’t help but feel a modest amount of guilt nevertheless.  So getting as far as I have in “fixing” this particular black mark in just one week is very encouraging for me.  It’s the first time I’ve targeted something like this, formulated a plan, put it into action, and seen success.

I’m proud of that.  And pride goes a long way.

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