Teaching kids patience and perseverance

Sofia patience

The other day, I mentioned on Facebook how much I was craving boba milk tea (again), when someone mentioned using Doordash and having it delivered. I thought to myself, having food delivered when I was at work and in the middle of a project was one thing, but getting it brought to my home because I didn’t want get the baby ready, get in the car, and drive ten minutes away sounded a little ridiculous. Still, unwilling to wake a sleeping child, I signed up and got my boba in under an hour. And something went off in my brain, like an epiphany—though maybe not in the best way. The next day, when the boba craving hit again, it seemed too easy to use my new coupon from Doordash and get it delivered again. And it occurred to me, that in this age of convenience and near-instant gratification, how do we teach our kids the value of patience or working through things?

Model patience

Sofia’s at that stage where she’s testing boundaries and pushing our own patience to its limits. She wants to see how we react to her demands and learning what’s acceptable and what’s not. So, I have to stop myself from sighing or making faces when I’m waiting in line, or from getting upset when traffic is at a standstill on the way home. When she starts to fidget and fuss, I try to distract her and teach her to cope with the wait by singing or talking about her day. More often than not, she starts getting excited about something else and doesn’t focus on how long things are taking.

Set expectations

When we go to stores, we let Sofia know that we’re only buying groceries or things we need. Any toys she sees that she wants, she can mention to be added to her birthday/Christmas/reward wish list, but we are not getting them now. We’ve found that this keeps her from whining or getting upset (though we get the occasional sulk) but doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm. It’s kind of like the Marshmallow Test, where preschoolers are offered a marshmallow, but told that if they waited for fifteen minutes without eating it, they’ll receive a second marshmallow. It makes kids stop and consider their options: something good or “okay” now, or something greater later on.

Reward perseverance

We were trying to think of a way to help Sofia out of her ballet funk. When we got back from the Christmas break, she would act excited to go to ballet class the night before, but start to cry when it came time to actually go into the classroom. All our old tactics of giving her pep talks, hugs and kisses—they weren’t working. Threatening to stop the lessons altogether only made her more upset. My mom came up with the idea of a chart: for each ballet lesson she participated in for the full 45 minutes, she would get a sticker. After ten stickers, she’d receive a surprise. Lo and behold, it worked! She’d come home from class happy and proud to say she danced “from beginning to end”. Once a month, she got a second sticker for going to her “Daddy Daughter Dance” rehearsal with Mr D. By the tenth sticker, she wasn’t even that focused on the surprise, which was an afternoon snack of crepes and frozen yogurt. She’s back to loving her ballet classes again, and seeing her friends each week, which seems like a reward in itself.

Acknowledge limits

Sofia enjoys doing “homework”, which is what she calls the workbooks and activity books we give her. She sees her older cousins busy with school work, and writing her letters and numbers makes her feel like a big girl. Most days you have to stop her from going through the entire book in one sitting. Other times, like today, she can barely finish one page. She got to twenty and started to mis-count and draw the numbers incorrectly. When I’d try to gently correct her, she’d complain that she “always gets it wrong”. Knowing that she didn’t have a good night’s sleep the night before and only a short nap this afternoon helped me curb my impatience and understand why she was unable to focus. So, we called it a night and told her it was time to get ready for bed. Sure enough, a bath and her favorite bedtime stories improved her mood greatly. Sometimes you have to know when it’s time to call it quits.

Engage in “slow” activities

With easy access to information, immediate feedback and validation, entertainment on demand—our battery-powered lives can seem like the best and only choice. More than ever, it’s important to give kids the opportunity to do things that require patience. For her birthday, Rikki’s aunt gave Sofia a set of jigsaw puzzles. Though only made up of 25 pieces, her first few tries seemed to overwhelm her. With a little bit of coaching, she started turning the pieces and testing them out to find where they connected. After her second puzzle, she pretty much refused any advice. My sister made a small vegetable planter in their backyard when the kids were younger, where they grew tomatoes and zucchini and other vegetables. Planting a seed or seedling and waiting for it to grow into something you can eventually eat is one of the best ways to teach kids the rewards of patience.

As with anything kid-related, it’s important to start out slowly, and work to increase their patience level over time. One of the perks of being a parent is re-learning all these important lessons right alongside them. So, sorry Doordash, you’ll only be used for emergency “the-baby-is-still-sleeping-and-it’s-way-past-lunchtime-and-there’s-no-way-I-can cook” situations only.

I remember one trip Mr. D and I took to Disneyland with my sister and her family before we were married. My niece wanted to meet the Princesses, and we all agreed because we knew the photo op would be too good to pass up. We must have stood in line for about an hour in ninety-degree heat. Gaby was doing okay until we were third in line to enter the meet-and-greet space. She then turned around and declared “I’m over the princesses, Mommy!” and began insisting on leaving. It took some convincing to let her know all our waiting would go to waste if we left now, especially since we were so close. The photos were adorable, and the wait worth the look on her face. More importantly, it was worth it for Gaby to learn that waiting can bring wonderful things.

How do you get your kids to practice patience? Tips and tricks welcome!

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *