Teaching Kids Patience (page 2)

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

Teaching Patience to Older Kids and Adolescents

This task will be easier when you have started them young. Many of the same ideas apply such as giving your patient attention and helping children to delay gratification for increasing periods of time, but not extending frustration beyond what is safe or healthy, assuming safety needs are met in general.

As children get older you can explain in words what it means to be patient. However, if you are not patient, that is what they will learn. Your words will carry very little meaning if you are irritable and snappish.

When little Emily lost her favorite stuffed rabbit she was painfully impatient for it to be found. Her mother knew it was in the house, but efforts of all family members had failed to find the bunny. Emily was inconsolable at first, and had trouble falling asleep. Her mother sat with her and normalized her impatience. “It is understandable that you would be impatient because you love to sleep with your bunny. I know your bunny is somewhere here and she will be found. For tonight, let’s find another stuffed animal to be your special friend and we will keep looking for bunny.” This required patience from Emily’s mother. As mother exhibited her own patience with Emily’s distress, Emily calmed down. Eventually the bunny was found.

But when little Julia lost her stuffed squirrel in the woods, it could not be found. Mother had to help her get through her loss, patiently explaining that these things happen to everyone. Mother had to hold the patience for her child until Julia was able to attach to another animal. When that happened, it was time to buy another squirrel.

Special Considerations for Adolescents

If good teaching/modeling has taken place in childhood, adolescents will have some ability to hold themselves together during stressful or difficult situations. Adolescents require a lot of patience while they go through the initial stage of figuring out who they are.

When young Jane was about 15, her frustration tolerance was limited. With a wrong look or word from her parents, she would beat a path to her room, slam the door and rant. Her parents refrained from following her to her room and assailing her character. Each time they patiently waited for her to emerge. Eventually the emerging time became shorter. Eventually, Jane was able stay present and to talk to her parents about her frustration, rather than to run. Her parents’ patient waiting for her each time, and patiently being available to talk rather than telling her what a rotten kid she was, allowed Jane to learn to be patient with herself.

However, when an adolescent is acting out with extreme anger or irritability, or self-destructive behaviors that do not abate, the parent may want to consider the function of the behavior. Is this evidence that there is inherent immaturity and the parent may need to address this with the child? Or might there be some deeper root cause? Remember that professional social workers are equipped to help in situations where chronic and extreme impatience is indicative of a deeper issue. The parent’s patience in dealing with the child’s problems will teach the child the value of patience although the parent may not see that result for some time.

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Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP is the author of the "Relax and Learn Seminars: Skills For All Seasons,” a repertoire of workshops based on the principles of effective stress management. In her work Ms. Freedson emphasizes the power of the mind/body connection to improve decision-making, increase effective coping, reduce time wasted in conflict, boost morale and productivity at work, and create greater harmony in relationships. Ms. Freedson practices clinical social work at The Listening Place in Lynn, Massachusetts. Besides maintaining an additional private practice in South Berwick, Maine, Bette is Social Work consultant to Maine School Administrative District #35.

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