A Series on Patience: 5 Tips to Build your Child’s Patience Muscle

In my previous post I touched on how a culture of instant gratification is contributing to impatience in adults and children alike. I also stressed the importance of patience as a life skill that many of us consciously need to teach our children and practice ourselves. In my second post of this three part series, I share 5 tips on how to create a culture of patience in your family. It takes consistency, commitment and a whole lot of adult patience, but it’s worth the effort.

5 Tips to Build the “Patience Muscle” in Children

Patience is like a muscle that needs regular exercise, so that it remains strong, is less likely to get tired, and can be readily used at the necessary moments. If your “patience muscle” is strong, you are able to remain calm and contented even in the face of delay, trouble or suffering. If it is weak, then you quickly turn to feelings of frustration, anger and irritation.

So what can we do to help children build their “patience muscle” starting at a young age? Below are my tips to help you encourage patience in your family.

Set Clear Expectations

How would you like your children to behave and speak when they want something or need something? How would you like them to ask and wait for help? Children rise up to the expectations we set for them. They are capable of waiting, but like any adult they want and need to know what is expected of them. First, decide what you expect from your children. Secondly, make sure that you have clearly and calmly expressed your expectations on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior (give alternative behaviors that are acceptable). It’s important that you act consistently within the expectations that you have set. This can be a lot of work in the beginning, but consistency pays off big in the end.

Give Children the Skills to Communicate

Children need the skills to express themselves just like adults. They need to be able to calmly express their needs, wants and feelings. Sometimes children behave in a way that we don’t like because it has always worked and they have gotten the result they wanted. Instead of reacting, use these moments as learning opportunities.

If you don’t think it’s acceptable that your child pulls on your shirt and yells when he/she wants something, then make it clear that is not acceptable behavior and teach the alternative behavior you would like for your child to do. You can give your child the skills to better communicate while teaching social courtesies.

Model Delay and Set Backs as a Part of Life

How do you want your child to view delay and setbacks, as punishments and overwhelming experiences or as a natural part of life? What we model to our children is what they will learn about trying situations. For example, while waiting for food at a restaurant, we can either model frustration and annoyance or model that it is a special time we have together as a family. When something stops working at home (like the internet or an appliance), we can model that although it’s not as comfortable as we are accustomed to, it’s just a small issue. We can teach so much during these times from the process of how to fix the issue (what are the steps to addressing a problem), to creative ways to address the issue (take a break from the internet and play board games, tell family stories, read books, etc.), to how fortunate we are to have certain luxuries.

Encourage Activities that Require Patience

There are lots of simple and fun activities that we can do with children that help build patience in lieu of toys and games that contribute to instant gratification. You can work on a puzzle, bake bread or do a science experiment that takes days or weeks to come to fruition. These are just a few examples of activities that encourage children to work and wait for the result, be it completing the puzzle, tasting the product of their labor, or observing the scientific process. Seek out and choose activities that encourage children to practice being patient.

Encourage Independence

Building patience is important. Helping children to become independent is equally important. When we ask children to wait, is it because we haven’t set up the environment so they can do something for themselves or because we are genuinely needed? Think of all the things that children have to wait for (a snack, glass of water, to ask a question, to reach something, etc.). Let’s not ask them to wait when it’s something they can do for and by themselves. We can instead make changes at home to the physical environment and teach children how to do certain activities on their own.

What else do you do at your home to encourage patience and build the “patience muscle”? I would love to hear from you.

In my final post of this three part series, I share more tips on encouraging patience with children. This time we will be addressing how to help children enjoy the process of work (and slow gratification) instead of becoming overwhelmed or frustrated by it.

Keep well, S