written by Rory Anderson, Foster Division vice president, LiFT Consulting
A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter and I were standing in a fast food line when a dad and his son scooted in behind us. The cute dark, curly-headed boy, who I’m guessing was around 10 years old, was doing what most kids do while waiting in line: squirming, tapping his feet, and touching the wall near the register. Normal kid behavior. Without warning, I watched his father yank him by the collar, put his face right up to his, and start yelling at the boy for not “behaving.” It was clear that this father was having a bad day, which in turn led to his son having a pretty awful experience in front of a bunch of strangers.
This is a pretty extreme example of a lack of parental patience, but how often do we harp, nag, and complain about our kids not “behaving?” Could it be that our children are acting like, well, children? And, could it be that WE are the ones acting out of character as adults who should “know better?” In other words, maybe when we stop and look outside ourselves, we will see what others see: Our children learning, growing, and discovering the world for themselves. They are figuring out what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Glenn Latham, renowned child behavior expert, said, “Unless what you are about to say or do has a high probability of making the situation better, don’t say it and don’t do it.” This is probably the hardest thing for parents to master. We are so keyed in to what our children are doing wrong, that we often feel the immediate need to correct behavior as soon as it happens. While this is appropriate in a situation where the child is harming himself or others, often it’s best to talk about behavior when you’re not in the heat of the moment. What does this have to do with patience?
Patience is the act of exhibiting self-control and self-discipline, whether it’s choosing not to eat the whole bag of Dove chocolates you’ve been hiding from your kids, or examining a situation with the intent to understand your child before offering advice or criticism. Patience means letting your child discover without you interfering every step along the way. Patience is letting your child do it her way sometimes, not letting your worries of other people’s opinions control how you parent.
SIX WAYS TO PRACTICE PATIENCE
- Practice listening to your child. Let him say EVERYTHING he wants to say; then wait a minute more before answering or giving feedback.
- In the middle of a heated argument with a child, spouse, or anyone else, take three deep breaths and think about whether or not the situation could be handled at a different time when all parties are less emotional. Resolve to take a break from each other until you are both calm.
- Before getting upset about a situation, ask yourself if it will matter in a week, a year, or 10 years? If the answer is no, then it’s probably not worth getting upset over.
- Practice patience when a child is misbehaving by putting yourself on “time-out.” When the child is engaged appropriately and calm again, take the time to teach what his behavior could have or should have looked like. This is a great time to roleplay with your child. Kids love it when you act like the child — as long as you do not do it in a demeaning way.
- Have an internal dialogue with yourself when you feel yourself losing patience with a child or spouse. Ask yourself how you can help to keep the situation calm by looking at the other person’s perspective. Then verbally acknowledge that you understand the other person’s point of view. Often when a child or spouse feels “heard,” tension dissipates and a real conversation can take place.
- Figure out what situations, people, or circumstances hinder your level of patience. When you know your triggers, you are better able to navigate and anticipate those scenarios, then focus on having patience in spite of them.
Patience definitely takes practice. Some people are born with patient demeanors, and some of us have to work very hard at it. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses in this area is crucial. For me, my patience runs thin when I feel overwhelmed by too many things to do and not enough time to do them, or when my house is cluttered. Knowing this helps me to separate WHY I’m feeling impatient, so I can redirect my energy to cleaning up or crossing a few things off my “have-to-do” list, instead of taking out my frustrations on my family.
One thing I’ve learned over 20 years of parenting is that everyone can master patience through repeated practice and diligence, and it will pay off as you see your children becoming more patient with each other, and eventually with their own children.