Applied Psychology

Why Teach Kids Patience and How to do it

Feb 11, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
Why Teach Kids Patience and How to do it

Having little to no patience isn’t a bad thing per se. Some people can hide their lack of patience quite successfully. However, most can’t and how they choose to express their lack of patience can be quite damaging.

In fact, most adults who continuously choose not to exercise patience are difficult to be around. They tend towards taking over when others don’t do things quickly enough. Ironically, they may also give up on tasks quickly or don’t follow through to complete things properly, requiring others to do it in their wake. Often their default is agitation or anger which can lead to tantrums. This is upsetting to those around them and in extreme cases can lead to verbal, emotional and mental or even physical abuse.

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait. It’s how we behave while we’re waiting.”

Joyce Meyer

The great thing about patience is it can be nurtured at any stage of life. It may be easier to teach it to a child, but as an adult it isn’t impossible to learn.

What is Patience?

Patience is a skill. It’s seen to be one of the necessary ingredients of success, which makes sense given that some of its fruits include grit, self-control, critical long-term thinking and kindness.

Patience is a choice. It’s a choice to exercise patience in your own life and a choice to teach it to a child. It’s something that we have to decide to do and to consistently follow through with.

“Patience is a skill, choice and a habit.”

Patience is a habit. It can therefore be our go-to-response in trying circumstances instead of impulsive reactions which tend to lead towards bad decisions.

How to Teach Kids Patience

Teaching a child patience will require you to exercise patience yourself. It requires you to tailor your expectations to be age appropriate. To be consistent in your requirements and follow through on promises made. Because patience is not only about waiting, it’s also about doing, learning patience requires positive reinforcement and encouragement.

Ten Things that can help with Teaching Patience:

1. Slow Down

Taking the time to do something at a child’s pace, especially when you’re busy and the outcome is somewhat dubious, is difficult. However, taking over or being impatient when they need to re-do something to get it right, teaches them to automatically hand things over before trying again or give up if they don’t succeed the first time or aren’t as quick as someone else at successfully doing something.

2. Mix it up

Distracting a child works wonders to pass the time. However, using screen time to fill the gap means a child isn’t experiencing the passing of time. Varying activities while they wait, will give them a better understanding of the passage of time and of truly waiting for something.

3. Visualise

Have a visual way of seeing time pass by. A counter or egg timer is one way of tracking time passing. When travelling, you could have a hardcopy of a map with a movable car that they can track a journey’s progress with.

4. Watch Your Responses

Younger kids aren’t able to easily conceptualise time. That’s why they will repeatedly ask “Are we there yet?” or “Is it time yet”. Alternatively, they may have a tantrum. A snappy, impatient or punishing response to these unintendedly annoying and repeated questions, will reinforce that waiting is a negative experience and to be avoided. Adjust your answers so that they are age appropriate and positively reinforce their behaviour.

5. Use Comparisons

Find ways of helping them understand time as opposed to giving an answer of “soon” or “we will get there when we get there”. For example, it will take the same time as two episodes of Daniel Tiger to get to Aunty Jane’s.

6. Give a Running Commentary

When asked for a snack or to help them, don’t rush and do it as quickly as you can. Rather, slow down and talk through what you are doing, step-by-step. This is so that a child is aware that things aren’t instantaneous and could require multiple tasks to be completed, in a specific order, to successfully achieve something.

7. Taking Turns

Games with two or more people are a great way to exercise patience, as they require you to wait for your turn to play.

8. Keep Promises

If you’ve delayed something with a promise of later, make sure that you follow through. This will help them understand that while you have heard them, you aren’t at their beck-and-call. And that sometimes they may have to wait to get what they need or want.

9. Thank Them

By saying things like “Thank you for taking the time to finish something” or “Thank you for waiting so patiently”, helps a child feel good about themselves and exercising patience. This positively reinforces the experience of exercising patience making them more likely to do it again.

10. Be Patient

Kids replicate what they see. Your actions will be reflected in theirs. If you aren’t patient with them, while you need to wait on something or when you’re trying to do something tricky, then there’s very little chance that they will be patient when you want them to be.

Remember to be Patient with Yourself

“Kids mirror our actions, including how patient we choose to be.”

Don’t be too hard on yourself. As you try to teach patience, you may find that there are moments when you are the student learning patience and not the guru teaching it. If you lose your patience while trying to help your child exercise it, see the irony in things and don’t shy away from talking about it. Use what’s happened as a lesson and a sharing point through which you communicate the frustration of having to be patient, as well as the commitment to learning to be more patient alongside your child.

Interested in learning more about how to help parents and children? SACAP offers a range of courses in psychology and counselling, including part-time and full-time as well as online learning options. For more information, enquire now.

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