Part of me wonders why my kids struggle with patience because they are painfully slow whenever I’m in a hurry. Okay, okay…the truth is I struggle with patience just as much as they do.
It’s difficult to wait in a world of insta-everything. Our kids are used to instantly seeing the photo we just took, eating a hot meal three minutes after it came out of the fridge, and watching a show at the click of the button (they don’t even have to rewind movies!).
Patience, described by my daughter’s Sunday School teacher (and others) as “waiting with a good attitude,” isn’t a self-help trick to make life more tolerable. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit, something that should characterize every Christian believer who abides in Christ. Patience is more than waiting on little sis to tie her shoe. It’s staving off anxiety while waiting on test results from the doctor. It’s trusting that God is in control of our finances when we’re not. It’s being tolerant when others show their weaknesses (Proverbs 19:11). It’s continuing to act in faith by prayer while we trust that something will happen (Galatians 6:9).
Here are some suggestions on how to talk to your kids about patience, and why we should practice it daily.
1. Take Inventory
How patient are you?
Before talking with your kids about how to be patient, it’s helpful to start examining ways you’re impatient. Starting today, chronicle times you feel impatient. Is it over something trivial? Out of your control? How many times is it your own child that triggers your impatience? Journal about it or simply write a “P” on your digital calendar to help catalog those moments. Review at the end of the week and use these experiences to share with your children about how you, too, struggle with patience.
Example: You remember when I honked the car horn this week when I was waiting for you? I was being impatient, and I’m sorry I hurt your feelings and made you rush. What are some ways we can communicate better?
2. Plant a Seed
Shortcuts aren’t good for the soul.
Object lessons like planting a seed or sapling and caring for it as it grows can serve a gentle, daily reminder that we have a job to do while we wait. We’re made to cultivate and care for the things around us. When we do this the right way it’ll take time and resources. The outcome is always worth it.
Example: Do an art experiment together where you do the same project twice; for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s a coloring sheet. Set the timer so that you each have to finish coloring the picture in 60 seconds. Then do a second sheet with the timer set to 6 minutes. Compare and talk about the results. Bring up this object lesson the next time your child is having trouble waiting: “We wait because doing a good job takes time.”
Stockpile a bag of tricks.
Waiting patiently can sometimes be as simple as staying occupied. We parents are pros at this on a road trip: DVD player, activity books, car games, snacks, etc. But we often forget to plan for boredom at the grocery store, doctor’s office, church or shopping. How often do you pull out your phone when you’re bored? Why do we expect anything less of our little ones?
Example: Ask your child to talk about the last time he was bored. Suggest getting a bag and having him fill it with things that will keep him occupied while he waits, like cards, pens and paper, mp3 player, or a snack. Also, be mindful of how often you pass time on your phone with your child around.
5. Pat on the Back
Reinforce good behavior.
When you praise the effort your kid puts into waiting with a good attitude, it cements that experience as a positive one–one that that they’ll want to repeat. Point out not just that they did a great job of being patient, but how they did it, and how it made you feel.
Example: Wow! I’m so proud of you for staying calm and quiet while I was on the phone. I know you wanted to show me what you had been working on, but you waited until I was finished. That made my call go so much faster, and that helps me spend more time with you now.
Parenting can push any person to his or her limits. Remember to extend grace to yourselves and your kids when needed. Be generous with asking for and giving forgiveness. Tolerance complements patience, and we do ourselves and our kids a service by cultivating both in our homes. You may not get a thank you now, but be patient…it’ll come in time.
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.