A Series on Patience: Are we Teaching Patience to Children?

When I started this post, I thought patience was just about waiting, like in line for a coffee. Before starting this series, I would have described myself as a fairly patient person (little did I know). As defined by Google (apparently they also have their own dictionary), patience is, “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It is from the Latin verb, pati, to suffer. This definition made me question, how many adults do I know (myself included) that are truly patient? How many of us can handle delay or trouble without getting angry or upset? And if we aren’t being able to do it very well then how are we modeling and teaching our children to be patient?

The short answer is most of us are not.

How often do we see children whine, have tantrums and meltdowns and give up and say “It’s boring” or “I don’t want to” at the first sign of delay or trouble? In their defense, how often do we see adults behaving in a similar manner?

In post one of this three part series, I share what I believe is contributing to a lack of patience in children (and us adults). In my next post, I'll offer tips on how to encourage patience at home and in my third and final post, I’ll go a step further and share tips on how we can help children be patient and persevere in their work and activities without becoming overwhelmed or frustrated.

A Culture of Instant Gratification

There are many reasons why we all seem less patient these days. I feel that it’s related to various changes in our society, including the over availability of technology, hyperconnectivity (multiple means of communication), and consumerism’s response to lack of time (instant and on demand services). Ultimately, we now live in a world where instant gratification has become the expectation.

We are growing so accustomed to getting “what we want when we want it” that even those of us, who grew up with the expectation of being patient, are forgetting this important life skill.

And it’s carrying over to our children.

Children have difficulty tolerating delay and trouble with patience and composure. Unlike us, they have grown up being accustomed to on demand and constant entertainment, fast food and their wants being instantly addressed. Delay or trouble (usually waiting) can even be perceived as a punishment to them.

I’ve shared a few examples below where I have seen adults and children alike become rattled by these situations. We also have experienced these situations in our home.

  • “Why is my ‘device’ not responding? It was working a minute ago. Is it broken? Is the Internet not working properly? Maybe I should restart it? This is so frustrating. I ‘need’ it to work now” (are these needs or wants?).

  • “Why is the food taking so long? I feel like we ordered ages ago. I am so hungry and want to eat now.”

  • “I am ready to leave. I’m tired and want to go home. Can we leave now?”

Most of us reading this have experienced these situations ourselves as adults. We were streaming something on our computer, it stopped working, and we were quick to become agitated or frustrated. We ordered at a restaurant and wondered what was taking so long and asked with a twinge of frustration in our voice. We were ready to leave a get together and didn’t feel like taking the time to find the appropriate people to thank.

We have also seen our children have similar experiences. Perhaps, they don’t express their frustration as clearly and it sounds more like a long whine of, “I want to gooooooooooo! Are we leaving yet? Mommmmmm!”

We find ourselves in a time when the life skill of patience needs to consciously be taught to our children (and at times to ourselves).

We all want our children to be patient. We know as adults how important it is to be able to handle delay gracefully or to persevere during a difficult situation riddled with setbacks. We need to model patience to our children so they learn that setbacks, delay and trouble are all a part of life and there’s no need to get upset or angry. These experiences can instead be handled with grace and viewed as great learning moments.

So how do we teach and model patience to children in a culture of instant gratification? In my next post, I’ll share 5 tips on how to get started encouraging patience with children. I would love to hear from you and how you enjoyed the post.

Keep well, S