How to Be Patient

How to Teach Your Child to Wait a Minute

You have plenty of parenting opportunities to help your children acquire patience, and it's never too late to start.

It’s hard to promote patience when computers compute faster every year and your microwave dishes out ready-to-eat meals in moments rather than hours. Still, one of the parenting chores you face is teaching your kids how to work patiently toward a goal. The good news is you don’t have to teach it all at once. Whether you’re helping them carry on until they’ve mashed every lump in the potatoes or completed their math homework for tomorrow’s deadline, you get years to help your children develop patience.

Embrace the Goal

Patience may seem like a character trait that kids are born either with or without. It’s true that some children seem better able to maneuver through the stops and starts of life without experiencing a meltdown. These gentle souls probably grow into adults who wait calmly after only pushing the elevator button once.

Most kids, however, are wired to push that button as many times as required to get those doors open as quickly as possible. Your goal is to help these fidgety souls learn less futile ways to wait.

Merriam-Webster dictionary loosely defines patience as the “ability to remain calm when dealing with a difficult or annoying situation, task or person.” In teaching your children patience, you’re essentially helping them learn how to work through a problem rather than having a tantrum when life’s often unavoidable delays get in their way.

Begin at the Beginning

An infant certainly requires instant gratification when it comes to the necessities of life, such as food, dry diapers and silly faces. However, a toddler can overcome the challenge of waiting a bit for some of her favorite things.

If, for example, she insists that you read a book to her “now, Mommy,” but you’re in the middle of a chore, make the encounter a patience-building experience that helps her develop a Plan B for spending time with you.

  1. Help her realize you’re on her side by communicating your understanding of how hard it is to wait.  
  2. Giver her a simple task that helps you “finish faster” (not), such as putting the clean spoons away. She’ll soon catch on that she may actually end up with more mommy time if she follows an unexpected path to her goal.
  3. For young children, keep wait times short. Let her know that she’ll have to wait quietly for just a minute or three for you to finish your task before you can become involved in her activity.
  4. Preschoolers and older children can wait a bit longer. You eventually can set an appointment for reading or other “mommy and me” activities.

Because kids are people too, expect tears when you introduce your child to patience, but you may start reinforcing positive behavior at an early age as well. Don’t reward tantrums. Instead, explain that you won’t be able to read to him at all if he start whining and crying. If you remain calm and consistent, he’ll start focusing on how to use his waiting time wisely rather than wasting energy trying to change your mind.

Grow the Lessons Up

Initially, you can offer suggestions to help your children cope with waiting. Once they’re familiar with the process, have them solve the dilemma by asking, “What can we do to stay busy until story time?” Or, if they want a toy, ask them how they can earn the money rather than handing over your debit card.

This helps your child discover his own ability to redirect his frustration and learn that he has a choice about how to work through delays.

For school-age children, homework also provides valuable opportunities to promote patience and overcome frustration. When you hear the whine start regarding a difficult homework problem:

  1. Suggest your student take three deep breaths. This has a calming effect but also energizes a weary brain.
  2. Ask her to read the instructions aloud and discuss what she thinks the lesson is about. Because homework is typically assigned to reinforce what’s learned in class, she’ll likely have more knowledge about the assignment than she realizes. It also helps reinforce the notion that she can ask for help.
  3. If he’s been sitting too long, suggest a quick break that includes some physical activity. Set a timer and let him run up the stairs and back down again, dance a silly dance, or jog in place. This relieves stress and provides a healthy way to deal with frustration. 
  4. Remember that it’s important that the homework gets done, but your real goal is helping your children learn how to overcome frustration so they achieve the desired outcome.   
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