Impatience and childhood go hand in hand. There's a reason "Are we there yet?" is such a common marker of traveling with kids. We cannot expect our children to come into the world as patient and understanding as the Buddha, and we'd probably worry about them slightly if they did. But as they grow, it's a parent's job to help them understand that they don't get everything they want the moment they want it. Teaching them patience teaches them how to operate in the world as healthy, well-adjusted adults. It teaches them how to monitor their emotions, how to think of others and how to be in relationships with others -- including their own children one day. Teaching patience makes your life easier, too -- you know your children won't have a meltdown the second you're not able to fulfill their every request.
Here are some questions to determine if you're teaching your child patience:
If you're having a conversation with a friend and your child has something to say, do you stop talking so he can share his thought?
If the answer is yes, stop. Not only is it annoying to the friend, but it teaches the child that he is so all-important that any word out of his mouth is worthy of stopping an adult's conversation. Tell your child that you'd love to hear what he has to say, but he must wait his turn.
If you're out at the zoo and your child is thirsty, do you drop everything and make for the food court to get her something to drink?
I certainly hope not. If you're enjoying watching the baby lions, then by all means, continue watching the baby lions! Your child can wait until you pass a drinking fountain -- there's no need to make a beeline for a $4 beverage. Unless it's 100 degrees and you've been out for hours, I seriously doubt dehydration is a great risk.
If you're eating dinner and your child wants a refill of his milk, do you get up to get it for him or finish your dinner first?
Nothing irritates me more than when moms claim they haven't had a hot meal in weeks. Have your hot meal! No one is depriving you of it but yourself. Tell your child that you would be happy to get him another drink, but after you have finished what's on your plate.
Does your diaper bag, purse or backpack contain an answer to every need of your child that might possibly arise?
If the answer is yes, what are you afraid of? That your child will experience a tiny bit of discomfort that you can't make go away that very instant? Guess what? That's called life! It is OK to ask your child to wait for her crackers, her lovey, her bottle, her favorite toy. It's OK if she's slightly uncomfortable for a few moments. It will teach her forbearance!
Do you pull up Caillou on your smartphone every time you're in a waiting room?
Whether it's at the pharmacy, the doctor's office or even the lobby of a restaurant, if you have instant entertainment waiting for your child, you are not actually teaching him to wait. You're teaching him that he must be constantly engaged.
Do you become short-tempered when dealing with traffic jams, slow sales clerks or even your child taking a long time to put on her shoes?
If so, then you could probably do a better job modeling patience yourself. It's not easy! Children will test every ounce of that patience. But know that they see it when you snipe at other drivers, when you roll your eyes at the sales clerk, or when you tap your foot when your 6-year-old is trying to tie his shoes. We could all do better in this department, and so let your child know that you struggle with having patience, too, and that you are trying to have more of it -- just as you're asking them to have more of it.
Trust me, patience is one of the best skills you can teach your child. It will make your life easier now, it will make him a stronger adult... and if enough parents join the fight, it just may etch away at a culture that expects instant gratification, no matter the cost.