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Teaching Kids Patience

By — National Association of Social Workers
Updated on Aug 18, 2009

Introduction

Patience is a virtue that can be instilled in children. Patience teaches children the value of delaying gratification, a skill necessary for maturity. Patience can help develop the ability to think through and resolve problems; it can counteract impulsivity and acting out behaviors. The value of patience lies in its ability to lead to inner calm and emotional strength of character. Teaching patience by example helps children learn resilience, self-containment, and the ability to self-soothe. These are qualities needed for emotional maturity.

General Tips for Parents on Teaching Patience to Children

Teach by modeling. Refrain from snapping impatiently at your children. Use "no-shaming" techniques to help your child understand that she or he may need to wait or take some time before a need is addressed or request is fulfilled.

Take time to look at the child and listen carefully when she is talking to you. Giving your attention even when you are distracted or busy shows the quality of patience more clearly than words can explain it.

When the kids are demanding you to do something right away refrain from yelling at them to “stop,” or “be quiet,” (or worse.) Instead, explain to the children the reasons you may not be able to fulfill their requests immediately. Match your explanations to the child’s age and level of maturity. Offer the child something to do in the interim, and be sure to return to tending to the child’s request when you say you will. Having your attention at the end of a period when the child must be patient will be rewarding and tend to reinforce the patient behavior.

Work with your kids to resolve problems when they are frustrated with trying to deal with something. Help to trouble shoot and think things through together. This will demonstrate patience by example. If you both get frustrated, suggest taking a breather, when you both get away from the problem for a few minutes. Then come back together to deal with it.

Practice relaxation techniques that prepare you for patience when your children are trying yours. Teach relaxation skills to the children. Little kids love to daydream. You can try a few minutes of quiet time with them to train them to use this as a patience technique.

Teaching Patience to Little Ones

Little ones are impatient by nature. They have short attention spans. This is natural. One way to teach patience to kids is by distracting them for short periods of time, if they are demanding attention. Be sure to come back when you say you will. Your return to attending to them will reinforce the patient behavior.

When my daughter was young she was impatient at bedtime and wanted me to sit with her. Because of my own responsibilities I could not do this. To help increase her ability to be patient, I would come back to check on her every 10 minutes or so until she fell asleep. Often she would be asleep on the first check in.

Stories can help little ones be patient. You can use their dolls or stuffed animals, or toy soldiers to make up storylines about patience. This type of teaching by example can be very effective.

Some parents use the television to keep a child quiet. This may be effective to get the child to leave you alone, but does not instill the true quality of patience. This virtue comes from inside out and not from outside in.

Instill self-esteem in little kids with honest feedback as opposed to empty praise for positive behaviors. The better the kids feel about themselves the more able they will be to hold themselves together with authentic patience when the situation requires.

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