Thursday, February 2, 2012

Patience with Children

A mother once asked her child to pick a balloon in her favorite color. The child said "pink" and reached for the pink balloon. The mother said, “No, you like yellow, it's better”. Then the mother took the pink balloon from the child and handed her the yellow balloon.

Do you ever feel the urge to step in and form your child's opinions, tastes, and to complete tasks that they seem to be doing "just too slowly"? If so, you're teaching your child a few unhelpful lessons, including that the child must rely on you to make decisions, that impatience is a virtue, and that the child's carers will always fix things rather than having to take on personal responsibility. Ultimately, impatience with a child risks lessening their independence and understanding. Learning to let go despite the messes, frustration, and mistakes that will inevitably arise is a vital skill when caring for or being with children. Whether you're raising children, or working or volunteering with them, a little patience goes a long way


1 Take a little time to think about the purpose and beauty of patience. Patience gives us time to reflect, to slow down and think about the world and the things we're doing. It's a way of enjoying what we're experiencing rather than always rushing toward an end just to make room for the next rush. Patience allows us to enjoy the process of living. Patience also enables others to accept us into their lives through our faithful, continued presence and enduring respect for them. When we accept the importance of patience in our lives, it becomes easier to be patient with others too. Through respecting the rhythm of ourselves and others, being patient presents an opportunity to give of ourselves rather than expecting others to conform to our wants.

See How to be patient for some more general ideas on letting a little more patience into your life.

2 Ask the child what he or she wants to have, do, or be. Resist the impulse to have things the way you'd like them to be. Even a very young child can indicate their likes and dislikes; allowing these to express themselves at appropriate occasions is important. As part of asking for the child's preferences, be sure to show that you've heard the answer; aim to paraphrase the child's response so that it's clear you understand.
Resist the temptation to change the child's mind about a future occupation. If little Johnny says he wants to be a window washer when he grows up, let it be. If you constantly interrupt with something like "Oh he's just saying that. We all know he'll be a doctor when he grows up", he'll start to resent the implications of being pushed toward a designated career.
Balance the wants with realities. If you think that what the child is asking for is unreasonable, unaffordable, or a sign of "consumeritis", take time to talk it through rather than simply saying no or choosing for them without discussion. You don't have to reason with the child but it helps to give a brief explanation. It helps even more if you show by example what you're asking the child to follow.

3 Show goodwill and interest in children. Where possible, try to please them. This isn't about being a doormat for the child's commands. It's about respecting the wants and requests of the child within the appropriateness of the situation. Help the child to learn the difference between making a request and making a demand and what the consequences are. It is also important to help them understand the importance of delayed gratification, teaching them that when you do say no, sometimes this is about waiting, rather than never having or doing what they've asked for. Helping them to understand this time perspective is far kinder than simply saying no and not explaining any further.

4 Be grateful for your children and for all children. When the daily chores mount up and everyone is rushing about, sometimes it's easy to take one another for granted. Taking time now and then to express your gratitude for your children will help you to respect them for the unique, individual beings they are, and helps them to see the importance of valuing others openly.

5 Humble yourself. Be willing to do things the child's way when possible. While their attempts might sometimes cause you frustration and worry, it is important to allow children to show you their way of doing things. If your child offers to help with making dinner, don't think of the mess they'll make. Accept that there will be a mess but realize that they're learning how to do something that will one day be of great importance as a skill (and eventually, they'll be making some of the household meals, relieving you of the burden occasionally). In watching and learning from your child or from other children, you will learn their character better, and see both their strengths and their weaknesses, giving you an opportunity to help them nurture the best talents and to learn to manage their weaknesses.
If you do not allow children to do things their way, this takes away their autonomy and potentially stunts their ability to discover things for themselves. Allow a child to try new things often, so as to give them a sense of self-trust and personal responsibility.
Naturally, keep safety and propriety in mind; it is entirely appropriate to step in and change the course of a child's behavior or activities where safety or appropriateness have been compromised; this is simply part of being responsible guardians.

6 Remember that children are human too. Remember that children have feelings, likes, dislikes, favorite foods, colors, etc. Honor these things when possible.

7 Let them try but don't turn it into an unbearable chore
Resist the temptation to control children. Children are ready to trust and soak up information from the people who care for them and spend time with them. Trying to control children lacks respect for their own self and is a way of trying to insert your way of thinking and preferences onto them. Give them space to grow into the individual that they are.
Patience allows you to be the ideal teacher. Instead of seeking to control, patience allows the child to grow at their own pace, rather than being pushed into doing things before being ready. For example, Dino de Laurentiis did not speak until he was 5. Despite the worries of others, his mother took this in her stride, believing he'd speak more than enough when he was ready. And so he did![1]
Try this: see if you can say "yes" to the child, before you say "no". If your first instinct is to say "no", question this. Actually, why not? Are you just being controlling, or is there a good reason to deny their request?

8 A little time out does wonders when tempers flare
 Pick your battles carefully. Most choices are not a life and death situation. Give children a rope long enough for them to safely learn on their own. Mistakes are a learning experience.If you feel that a situation is getting out of hand with a child, take a step back and create space between you and the child. This breathing space is important for both of you, after which you can express your thoughts and establish boundaries when you are collected, rather than channeling your concerns through frustration.

9 Be kind to your children and they will learn to treat you and others kindly by your example. Your example will be helpful to your children throughout their life. They will also have learned to make wise choices by the choices you allowed them to make. Now they will be kind to their children and teach them to make wise choices.

10 Be kind to yourself. It can be very hard to be patient sometimes in a world where teaching Mozart in the womb and expectations of exemplary behavior from preschool are considered the norm. No matter what the competitive approach insists upon, patience gives you a means for remaining calm within yourself, to give you the perspective to recognize the readiness of a child at their own developmental pace, independent of external standards. Rushing can cause you to lose sight of your guiding role, and of the precious essence of the child.

11 Love being with children. Sometimes our greatest impatience arises when we allow our own endeavors such as work, personal pursuits, hobbies, sports, etc., to get in the way of spending time with children. Whether we're parenting, caring, teaching, working or volunteering with children, nobody is immune from impatience at times. If you feel any sense of resentment when being around children for "holding up" the things you want to do, or you find yourself "half present" instead of giving your full attention, then being patient can restore your joy of spending time with children. Let go of the impatience and realize that time spent with children is precious. It is a time during which you can learn a great deal about seeing the world through fresh eyes. It can also be a time when you realize that you can make a big difference in the life of a child by teaching or showing them something new, and by helping them to love and respect themselves all the more.
Recognize that patience is a form of kindness. Giving time is giving kindness a chance. By removing the pressure of the other "more pressing" things you feel, you show your child that there is nothing more important, nothing kinder, than spending time with them.
A child who is given time with an adult soaks up the message that the busyness of adult life can wait, that childhood is a good time, and that there is no need to grow up too quickly. The point of life is being with one another, a gift that can only be imparted to a child in the doing.

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