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How to Teach Your Child to Be Patient


Instilling the Value of Patience in Children Through Delayed Gratification, Positive Reinforcement, Reflective Listening, and More They say patience is a virtue, but try telling […]

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Instilling the Value of Patience in Children Through Delayed Gratification, Positive Reinforcement, Reflective Listening, and More

They say patience is a virtue, but try telling that to your toddler who wants something right nowand doesn’t yet understand the concept of waiting. This can be difficult for a child, especially in today’s fast-moving society of instant gratification.

This article will focus on the importance of helping your child learn to be patient, and offer the best tips for instilling patience in your child.

The Importance of Teaching Your Child to Be Patient

We aren’t simply born with healthy character traits, especially patience. This is an incredibly difficult concept for young children to grasp, but it’s also one of the most important early life skills. Patience is fundamentally tied to success in academic, professional, and social settings later in life.

Patient children inherently learn things like self-control, respect, mindfulness and courtesy along the way. They will make friends more easily and have the drive to stick with projects and activities they start. They will also be able to cope with anger more easily when they don’t get what they want.

How to Instill Patience in Your Child

Start Early

When it comes to teaching your kids the value of patience, it is crucial to get an early start. This will curb bad habits before they have the chance to take hold. The more bad habits your child has learned, the more difficult it will be for them to learn to be patient later on.

If your child is old enough to want something (other than necessities that fulfill their basic needs) they are most likely old enough to learn to wait. Boundaries, respect, and impulse control can – and should – be learned at a young age. These are the traits that will shape who they become as they get older, and patience is a key factor in fostering these habits.

Delayed Gratification

The temptation to pursue instant gratification begins when we are children and persists throughout our lives. Whether it’s fast food, instant messaging, social media or simply the tendency to prioritize immediate pleasure over long-term goals, we are used to having everything we want at our fingertips the second we want it.

This is why it’s important to reinforce the importance of delayed gratification in our children. Sometimes this involves making them wait for something they want for no other reason than the simple principle behind it. For example, telling your child, “if you clean your room, we’ll go out for ice cream” may motivate them to clean their room, but only on the basis that they will be immediately rewarded for it. This can lead to unrealistic expectations for instant gratification later in life. Instead of rewarding your child right away, try putting a delayed gratification system in place to teach them the importance of waiting.

Show your child that, rather than getting one dollar every time they do a single chore, would it not be better to wait for their allowance at the end of the week, so they have more money to spend? When they demand sugary snacks between meals, try reminding them that they will enjoy their dinner more if they wait. If your child asks for a new puppy, waiting for their birthday will teach them that the world won’t end if they have the patience to wait for things that matter.

Take Turns

Taking turns is a great way to put the lessons you’ve been teaching your children about patience into action. This is easiest for children with siblings, who tend to learn patience a little faster as they have already learned to incorporate taking turns into their daily lives. Children can also practice taking turns with their parents, teachers and friends. There is no better way for a child to learn to wait their turn than when they have to wait for something they really want or enjoy.

They may struggle with taking turns at first, but practice makes perfect. In this case, positive reinforcement is the key. For example, if your child struggles with waiting their turn playing with a certain doll they really love, give them more opportunities to take turns with that doll instead of taking it away. This will reinforce the need to be courteous and patient, and the repetition will help them learn to cope with the wait.

Practice What You Preach

Children are impressionable. Especially during their earliest years, they learn behaviours and values from their environment and the people around them. If you are not exercising patience in your daily life, can you really expect the same from your child? Try to think actively about the day-to-day situations from which you have come to expect instant gratification, and how you can adapt the way you respond to those situations.

At the end of each day, have a conversation with your child and recap the day. Ask them to tell you three ways in which they were able to be patient today, and then do the same yourself. For children who are struggling, it may also be beneficial for you to tell them about a time you struggled to be patient and how you overcame it. If they see that you have been making a conscious effort to be patient, they may be inspired to do the same.

Reflective Listening

Engaging in reflective listening is a great way to indirectly instill patience in your children. Reflective listening is a communication strategy in which the listener seeks to actively understand the speaker’s idea and then offers the idea back to the speaker in order to confirm that the idea has been understood. This inherently teaches patience, as the listener should not interrupt with questions or comments until the speaker feels that they have communicated their idea to the best of their ability.

The best time to try reflective listening is during arguments between parents and children, siblings or playground friends. In these situations, your child will be eager to get their point across and teaching them to wait will promote not only patience, but respect and empathy as well.

Do Activities that Require Patience

There are many activities, including but not limited to junior karate classes, that teach children patience and other valuable social skills. This can also be done with activities around the house, like baking, gardening, working on a puzzle and even something as simple as “The Silent Game.” Just remember that repetition is key. By regularly putting your child in situations where they will need to exercise patience, they will gradually learn that it is a natural part of life.

Praise Progress & Make It A Positive Experience

Your child will be more likely to repeat good behaviours if they feel proud of themselves and their accomplishments. You can help them achieve this with positive reinforcement, by praising them when they’ve done a good job. For example, when your child has been patient while waiting with you in a long line at the grocery store or the bank, don’t be afraid to tell them.

No matter how mundane, it helps to remind your child that there are many different opportunities in a day to practice being patient. They will be more likely to take advantage of these opportunities if they feel that their efforts are being acknowledged. This is especially important if they are making progress in a situation they had previously struggled with.

Have a Countdown or Visual Representation

Some children are tactile learners, or find it easier to accomplish a goal when they see the light at the end of the tunnel. For example, you can help your toddler learn that a minute really isn’t that long by setting a timer or by using another form of visual representation, such as an hourglass. They will be so busy watching the seconds tick away that they will forget their impatience. They will also feel a sense of control by knowing exactly how long they have until they get what they want.

Pro tip: A timer or other visual representation is also handy when you’re the one waiting. For example, if you give her five more minutes of playtime before bed, they will learn that patience is a two-way street.

The Takeaway

When it comes down to it, patience is more of a muscle than a skill. In children, it takes plenty of practice and positive reinforcement. It’s important for parents to remember to be kind and positive when they struggle, even if they’re asking for something for the hundredth time. Children are not trying to be selfish or mean. They simply don’t have the capability to conceptualize time yet, and it’s up to us as parents to teach them.

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Scott Bullard