How do we learn patience? How do we learn that sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as we would like them to? Is patience a trait that can be taught or does it develop naturally?
Infants, of course, have no patience. If they’re uncomfortable, they let you know. In return we take care of their needs. I think it’s natural that as kids grow they still have their needs met by adults, but perhaps not as quickly. Does that teach patience or just lead to irritability? I think it can go either way.
If I want your attention but you put me off brusquely I will probably feel hurt. If you tell me that you’ll give me your attention shortly, I’m likely to be satisfied. Does it work that way for kids too? I suppose it depends on a lot of things, like who the kid is, what they want, and what’s going on around them.
I’m thinking about patience because of our state testing. Can kids who are nine or ten years old patiently go through all of the questions and possible responses and evaluate all of them before choosing? Can they be expected to sit quietly for multiple hours at a time? How much patience are they supposed to have?
Some of my students are quite impulsive. Some of them are extremely high energy. Sitting quietly doesn’t come easily to them. They’re trying, though, and for that I applaud them.
I do think it would help kids learn a little more patience if we didn’t drop everything to cater to their wishes. I see it a lot. Out at the mall a kid whines about being hungry and out comes the bag of Cheerios. At the restaurant there’s a wait for the food and out comes the technology. A student leaves a paper at home and a parent drops everything to run it over to school.
I know this rant sounds all old and “in my day,” but I assure you my mother never carried around sippy cups and snacks, and if I forgot my violin or my homework? Well, that was on me. It would never have occurred to me to ask her to bring anything to school (or even to call her from school–only the nurse did that– and only if I was throwing up).
But did I carry snacks around when my son was small? You bet. We’re much more mobile now. My mom and I didn’t go far when I was a kid. Maybe to the grocery store, or the bank or the beauty parlor or the dentist. Wherever it was, we always went home afterward. We didn’t live out of some rolling second house on wheels complete with snacks, communication systems, and entertainment. Jeez, in those days there weren’t even cup holders. Can you imagine? Barbaric.
I’m not suggesting a return to the dark ages (I love my cup holders), but maybe we could use a little more patience and try to teach it to our kids. Maybe we can take our time on a project and not expect instant results. Maybe we can engage kids in something that isn’t instant and takes work. How about planting a garden or building a backyard obstacle course or writing and illustrating a book? Maybe even just reading a long book together, one chapter at a time. There is value in delayed gratification, and there is value in persistence. I wish more kids had opportunities to experience both on a regular basis.
When our kids mess up, we have to let it happen. No, I’m not suggesting you allow your child to set the house on fire, but you paving the way so that your child never experiences any discomfort is a disservice to your child. I know you want your child to be happy. I know you don’t want him to be uncomfortable. But do you want him to be independent? Do you want her to be resilient? Do you want them to be self-reliant? Or do you want to fix everything for them for the rest of their lives?
The “pay to get my kid into the college of my choice even if the kid isn’t qualified” folks don’t. Their message to their kids is, “Whatever you might be capable of on your own isn’t good enough, and you need me to step in so that you can have success as I define it.” Ouch.
Maybe it sounds cruel to a modern parent, but the phrase, “No, I won’t play with you right now, go find something to do, without technology,” can be a loving response to your child. Let kids explore and use their imaginations, and they will discover worlds that aren’t found in any app. Stop trying to fix everything for them, they will be okay as long as you let them fail from time to time. Being uncomfortable in the short run can have great benefits in the long run. And parenting isn’t instant. You have to have patience.