My children are healthy, well adjusted and happily bonded to us but they are still children. They are still experiencing all the aches and pains that come from the process of growing up. They have moments when they scream out in anger, lose their tempers and lash out in ugly ways. They will sometimes cry uncontrollably when something frustrates them and shout angrily when they are cross. Sometimes these ‘moments’ seem to run together into a series of many moments, filling an entire day with negativity, frustration and unrest. I find myself, at best, staring flabbergasted, and at worst boiling up in my own swell of afflictive emotion. I believe in teaching through example but sometimes practicing patience is my own biggest challenge and every good intention and all my broad forward thinking evaporates into thin air.
How do you teach a child to be patient?
I replied (with minor edits):
Well, you already know that modeling is probably the best/most effective way — and also quite hard. I’m thinking though that we can also offer them skills to practice patience, although I don’t know at what ages these might be appropriate:
Encourage breathing/centering/grounding: “Hi! You’re getting pretty worked up. Would you like to take a deep breath with me?”
Engage their creativity: “You really want to play with that toy. What do you think we can do while we wait? What about this toy? Or we could hop on one foot!”
Redirect to different ways of expressing themselves: “I can see that you’re upset. Would you like to go scream into a pillow? Or go punch the couch [or any appropriate physical activity]!” (The Boychick, at just 3 years old, will say “I need to go to my [our] room!” and will go spend some time by himself, before coming back for hugs and kisses — because he’s seen me model that behavior when I’m feeling overwhelmed.)
Address the underlying issue: my family uses the acronym HALTTT, because no one copes very well or reacts very patiently when zie is Hungry Angry Lonely Tired Thirsty or needs to use the Toilet. So encouraging them to check into their bodies and figure out why they’re reacting so poorly, and then fix that, can really help. (I do this too; I often find myself snapping at the Boychick in the morning, but then I remember, and tell him, that it’s because I’m hungry and my blood sugar is low and I’ll feel a lot better when I go eat, so how about he get dressed now so we can have breakfast? It usually works, and it gives him a self-care vocabulary.)
Finally, I’d encourage you to accept that not all emotions are particularly pleasant, or calm, and that’s ok too: I want my child to be OK with the times when he’s feeling out of control, when he’s angry, when he’s frustrated, when he’s sad, and to know that whatever he’s feeling right now is ok. That very acceptance of the emotions that we’ve labeled in this society as “negative” can, paradoxically, help dissipate them. For you, too: it’s ok to be frustrated that they’re not more patient! It’s even ok to be frustrated that you’re not more patient with their impatience! Accept what is, as it is, without needing to change it. Only then can we change it.
And a disclaimer: I use these in my life, but I also am so, so far from perfect at any of it, and I lose it over his tantrums and neediness much too often. But y’know what? That’s ok too. I can, and am, changing it, but I don’t need it to happen overnight.
Hey look — I’m modeling patience!
ETA: In a stroke of fascinating coincidence and/or serendipity, at the same time I was posting this, the amazing Kelly Diels was hitting publish on Nice Girls and Nice Guys Finish Middle (Class), on why “nice” isn’t. For anyone wondering why I’d rather the Boychick learn to express even “unpleasant” emotions than learn to appear calm and collected at all times, read that. Good, yes. Kind, yes. Able to assert boundaries, hell yes. But save me from raising a “nice” child!