You want to teach your child patience, but it probably feels like an uphill battle. See if this sounds familiar. Your child asks for something. Maybe you’re not opposed to their idea, but it’s something they’re going to have to wait a minute for. Unfortunately, waiting isn’t their strong point. Next comes the tears, complaining, and maybe a total meltdown… It just escalates with every second of delayed gratification. That’s pretty normal behavior in a two-year-old, but when you have an older child (or teen) who wants everything now, it can feel pretty discouraging. So how do you teach patience to the child who wants something now?
There are lots of parents asking the same question. Many children struggle with patience. Many adults do too! You are definitely on the right path for wanting to teach your child patience. It is certainly a very important virtue to develop. While you are teaching your child patience, perhaps your ability to be patient will grow at the same time!
Our instant gratification culture
Instant gratification has become a hallmark of our culture. A lot of it is just the natural result of fast-moving technology. Waiting isn’t built into technological advances. If you just consider screens for entertainment – no longer do kids need to wait for their favorite daily show. Their parents can pull it up on their phones anywhere and anytime.
“As our technology moves faster, our patience grows thinner. A huge study from UMass Amherst, which surveyed 6.7 million users, showed that viewers tend to abandon online videos if they take more than 2 seconds to load.”
And answers to questions about science and the world? No need for a trip to the library. A few clicks and a visit to Wikipedia are all you need. This isn’t all bad, but it’s not teaching patience to our kids.
Many parents we coach believe they have failed to teach their kids self-control and self-discipline. Dr. David Walsh, a national expert on media and cultural influences, has coined a term for what he believes is a widespread problem among young people today – not ADD/Attention Deficit Disorder, but DDD – Discipline Deficit Disorder. (Maybe more like “self-discipline” deficit disorder.) Walsh blames our culture of “more, easy, fast, and fun.”
What is the point of teaching your kids to be patient when they have answers and enjoyment at the tip of their fingers? (Literally!) How do you teach your kids that there is joy and strength in learning to wait well?
Start by looking inward! The difficult job of looking inward is critical when teaching self-control and delayed gratification. It can be hard for us to wait and model patience well, especially in our parenting! (Are you often impatient with your impatient child?)
Before teaching your kids the fine art of patience, consider the following questions: What example am I setting? What are my thoughts and feelings when my children make impatient demands? Do I value patience as a virtue?
As you become more self-aware you’ll probably be more patient with your child’s struggle to wait well, and have more examples to share from your own life.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
7 activities to teach patience to kids
At whatever level your child can understand, share your own successes and failures in learning to delay gratification and work toward important things. (Our children have often heard the woes of an impulsive BIG purchase that we instantly regretted.) Kids are greatly encouraged when parents are open about their own mistakes. You could also talk about a time when God blessed you and grew your character while you waited patiently.
2) Build the value of “patient waiting”
It’s pretty futile to try to force your kids to do something when they have the opposite value – I want it now!! You can talk about Proverbs 16:32: “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Ask your kids, Why do you think scripture says that? What’s so good about being patient? What happens when people are impatient a lot?
As a family, write down, talk about, or even draw pictures of all the benefits of learning patience. Some ideas to start your list (from Greater Good magazine):
- Patient people enjoy better mental health.
- Patient people are better friends and neighbors.
- Patience helps us achieve our goals.
- Patience is linked to good physical health.
3) Model patience out loud
When you practice patience (both short and long-term), share the experience with your child.
- Short-term example: “Sometimes I start to get frustrated when we have to stand in a grocery line like this, so I choose to spend the time praying for others, or noticing interesting things around me.”
- Long-term example: “I’m really excited to take our family on a trip to ____, and I’m thankful we are able to put money away each month for this trip.” You could even put a “Trip Money” thermometer on the refrigerator to record the gains and let your kids fill it in.
4) Create lots of small opportunities
When the phone rings, or when fixing dinner, or in that long line at the store, set your child up for success. Smile and ask, “This is a chance to practice patient waiting. How do you think you’ll do?” Kids will often predict their own success, which greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll actually succeed.
Set a timer for simple waiting opportunities to give kids something visual to focus on while they wait. “I’m setting the timer so I can finish this, and in two minutes I’ll get out the food for a snack!” If you see your child getting antsy give some winks or thumbs up to help them feel seen and cared for while they wait. Also, you can time your trips to the bathroom to be when they’ve made a request, so they have to wait a little longer for their request to be addressed. 😉
5) Waiting games
- Hide and Seek – quiet waiting
- Captain May I? – respectful asking and waiting
- Freeze/Statue game to music – listening and waiting (Gradually increase the waiting by pausing the music for longer times when it stops.)
- If your child struggles to wait for their turn, play a turn-taking game but provide a “eat one piece at a time” bowl of popcorn. This will help your child stay regulated while waiting for their turn and it gives you an opportunity to affirm their growing patience.
6) Work toward a goal
Create opportunities for your child to use patience while working toward a goal, such as a special purchase or activity.
For younger children, you can draw a picture of an object or activity they want, or print one taken with your phone at the store. Cut the picture into pieces like a puzzle, and give them one piece each time they complete a special responsibility. Help them feel proud about their hard work and good waiting!
For older children, you might set up a chart, or with teens help them open a bank account to deposit their money.
7) Notice and affirm
When your child waits patiently even for a short period, notice and affirm that they waited patiently, and identify what strategy they used, for example, “You were singing to yourself while you waited.” Also state the benefit, “That helped you not be frustrated when it wasn’t your turn.”
In a scenario where you have to wait with your child, consider it an opportunity to teach patience. Slip in a compliment at (or before) the very first sign of restlessness. “I can see you’re working hard at waiting patiently!”
For older kids, make an effort to look for, and affirm, small-scale successes like doing homework before hanging out with friends, or coming home from the mall empty-handed.
It’s never too late to build new habits. So be patient with yourself and your child as you learn together!
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
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