Teaching Patience to our Children in 3 Really Difficult Steps

The importance of learning patience and how to exercise self-control is crucial to living a happy life. It is therefore imperative that we successfully transmit these principles to our future generations.

The are a few methods of how to impart the value of patience to our children, but I will focus on three: Modeling, storytelling, and setting healthy limits.

The ultimate parenting tool is through leading by example. When parents demonstrate patience through their own behavior, they give their child a true model of character. Children are curious, they watch and learn from our our every reaction. For instance, when we are waiting for our latte grande at our local Starbucks, and our kids see our impatience when it isn't served exactly when or how we want, it forms a deep impression on our kids. They have just learned from us that waiting means pain. However, if they see us in a state of calm and peace when driving carpool even though we are running late, they learned that it's OK to wait. Even better, we bestow to our youth the most beautiful gift a parent could give a child - a happy parent.

Why is this the most beautiful gift?

Children tend to internalize the emotions that their parents are experiencing. This creates probably the most significant behavioral conditioning tool used in raising our children. However, when we as parents practice impatience, children see an agitated, distressed, and upset father or mother. Our kids take these sentiments in as their own and that makes them anxious and tense themselves. We are literally teaching them that waiting is not OK, that delaying gratification is unfortunate. However, life itself demands patience, tolerance, and restraint; developing that muscle early on is an essential key to happiness and fulfillment in life.

By working on our own impetuous nature as parents, we cultivate and reinforce this quality in our children, and provide them with a wholesome, healthy, and positive home environment.

Informal storytelling is another subtle, yet powerful way of communicating the importance of patience and delaying gratification. By casually relating to our children what happened at the post office this afternoon; about the guy who had to be escorted out by a police officer for becoming irate at the teller after waiting for 25 minutes for his turn. Or in contrast, about the young lady waiting in line at the entrance to amusement park, who let another visitor cut her in front of her and only reacted with a smile. When she reached the admission booth, she was notified that she was 1000th visitor of the day and was rewarded with a free VIP pass. The messages conveyed in these stories, that “it’s worth the wait”, are often priceless.

Any discussion on self-control and restraint, cannot be complete without addressing the challenge of technology that surrounds us, namely, smartphones and the modality/content they connect us to. Gaming, social networking, and entertainment apps, are all directly engineered to provide constant micro-gratifying stimulus. The more we allow our children exposure to these platforms, the more it cripples their ability to delay gratification. The muscle of self-control atrophies with continued use. Just think how, even we as adults, grow impatient waiting for a reply to a message that we sent even 20 seconds ago. If you are a parent now, by definition you did not grow up with the ‘instant message’. We needed to wait. Not so long ago, if you wanted to research something, you needed to put on your coat, wait for the bus, drive down to the library, look up the information, sift through the material, and record what is relevant. Our children, however, could just ask their phone and get an instant reply.

As parents, it's our responsibility to empower our children with life skills to help them achieve the most out of life. A big part of that, is protecting them from influences that might compromise their ability to develop the power of restraint and the capacity to say ‘no’. There is much research out there about the dangers of these technologies and addictions to them. Injuries and accidents, reduced attention span, insomnia, and anxiety disorders are just a few. Limiting their usage on these devices, allows for learning through hard work, diligence, and focus while curbing exposure to the debilitating effects it has on self-discipline. Let us give our kids the space and peace of mind so they could grow and do so patiently.

For many years I have been involved in helping people, young and old, work through their emotional, psychological, and chronic physical issues. I have grown to learn that one of the most important traits found in my clients that were successful in creating deep and lasting results, was their ability to be patient during the process.

Nothing meaningful happens instantly, and if it does, it’s not ours.

So here’s the skinny. By definition there is no quick fix in how to acquire, foster, or teach this essential quality either to ourselves or to our youth. Delaying gratification means we need to work hard - but that is exactly why we are here - to put in that work. Self restraint requires the persistent flexing of the muscle called patience. Our children need to see, breathe, and live exactly this: Life is about hard work; working hard to get what we want and working hard to resist that which gets in the way.

I remember a ketchup commercial from my childhood, reminding us that, “The best things comes to those who wait.” If the Heinz Corporation could convince the vast majority of catsup consumers of this truth, don’t we own it to our kids to communicate the same?