Lately I’ve been finding myself telling Claire that she has to be patient. Sometimes we’re waiting in line at the store, or driving someplace far away- other times she simply has to wait until I get to whatever she’s asking for. “Be patient,” I frequently remind her, and then I got to thinking- what exactly does “being patient” mean to a 4 year old? How are they supposed to understand how to behave when they’re told to “be patient”?
I decided to update my verbiage, and lately I’ve been directing her to “practice being patient”, or “practice patience”. Now, what exactly are the steps for that? The first thing that comes to mind is taking a deep breath- and with a young person that only buys you a minute or two before they begin haunting you again with the same request on repeat. What else can you do?
There are lots of good articles for helping grownups practice patience, like this one from Forbes and this one from Mind Tools, but in my brief search, I found nothing specifically directed to my needs. Of course, I’m aware that modeling patience is required in teaching it, so reading the tips was helpful for me. But as for applying the exercises to my little one? Let’s amend some of those ideas.
1) Take a deep breath and count to 10. Ok, easy enough. Have your little one squeeze their hand into a fist as hard as they can for 5 seconds and release. Then have them squish their face, or wiggle their nose, or activate any muscles of their choice for a short period, then relax. This may help them loosen any points of physical tension they may have.
2) Recognize the impatience, acknowledge that the waiting is non-negotiable, then investigate your surroundings. Play I spy, count people with blue shirts, or look to recognize letters on surrounding advertisements.
3) Perspective- this can be tough with little littles, but it’s a good start towards teaching empathy. Seek out “why” you’re being held up- stuck in traffic? Hopefully whoever’s holding up the traffic is ok. Waiting in a long line? Imagine being the checkout person, and be grateful that you don’t have to stand in one place for such a very long time.
And on the perspective tip, don’t forget that you or your little may be hungry and/or tired, and that will certainly contribute to lack of patience. Recognize that, and then applaud yourselves for maintaining any sort of composure and being as positive as you can be!
What do you do to help your little practice patience?