Patience in Children

Dear Reader,

Our local parenting magazine had a short article this month on patience. The jist of the article is that kids are too impatient. They don’t stick with a task. They jump from activity to activity. Apparently, today’s kids are worse than previous generations. I think we can all guess which culprits are blamed. Number one is  all the electronic stimulation they receive–tv, computer games, etc.–which teach them to expect constantly changing images. A corrollary of this is just that our kids have too much. If you have 100 toys, you don’t have to stick to one task. If you have one set of wooden blocks and nothing else, you have to sit and make the block tower work. There is nothing else to do. Another cause (according to the article) is how we as parents rush our kids from place to place and acitivity to activity. We are teaching them to need constant stimulation and change.

Now I don’t necessarily think these things are wrong. But I also think there is more to it than that. The first thing I think about this is that we need to start by looking at ourselves. What parent doesn’t struggle with patience? If we want our kids to be patient, maybe we need to start by being patient with them. One of the most frequent comments I hear as a homeschooler is, “Oh, I couldn’t homeschool my kids. I am not patient enough.” To which I never say but usually think, “If patience if a problem for you, it is a problem. You need to deal with it and not use your impatience as an excuse.” Big disclaimer: this is not to say I think everyone should homeschool. I am just frustrated with people who use their own admitted faults as an excuse not to do something rather than actually working on the faults themselves. Even bigger disclaimer: I too struggle with patience with my kids. It is probably one of the biggest things I need to work on as well. I know for myself that I get most impatient when we are on a schedule. When we have to get somewhere or get something done and a wrench is thrown in the plans, even or maybe even especially a little wrench like a child who can’t find their shoes or is dawdling, I am most likely to lose it. So an obvious solution is not to overbook. If we weren’t rushing around so much, our kids wouldn’t be either. And when we do have to go somewhere, allow extra time for emergencies, because they will arise.

My second thought is that it is somewhat natural for kids to be impatient. This is not to excuse  bad behavior, but kids’ perception of time is not the same as adults’. We are all aware of the phenomenon that a year when you are 30 seems to go a lot faster than a year when you are 3 or 13. At 30, a year is a lot smaller fraction of one’s life. At 3, a year is huge. It is a third of one’s life. I think the same perception applies to smaller units of time as well. An hour to a child seems much longer than an hour to an adult. I don’t think this is a flaw or sign of impatience in a  child. It is just a question of maturity. The flip side is that our sense of time, even as adults, is so much more limited than Gods. We are told in the Psalms that 1000 years to God is as a day. When we are in  distress, our troubles seem huge and unending to us. But to God, who sees a much longer perspective, it is as nothing. Our impatience is often due to the fact that we have a more limited perspective. God looks at us as we would look at a child getting a shot. Yes, it is painful but we are able to see that the experience is temporary and brief but leads to a much longer-term good. The child is not able to see this.

The fact remains though that patience is a virtue. And we are not people who come by virtues easily. They must be practiced and worked upon. So how do we cultivate patience in ourselves and our children. As I mentioned above, one way is just to avoid situations which make us impatient. This is not a complete answer since avoiding sin is not the same as conquering sin. But I do think it is wise to avoid situations which lead us to stumble. There is no reason to unnecessarily provoke our children or ourselves when a little wise planning can avoid the hazards. But not all hazards can be avoided. Trying to see things from another’s perspective, whether that of the dawdling child or from God’s eternal perspective, can help. Practice can help. I am not an advocate of seeing things through to the end just for their own sake, but sometimes we must be encouraged to perservere. One way we have seen our children grow in patience is simply by having them in church with us. Now this was not our goal or reason for having them worship with us, but a wonderful side effect has been that children who can sit through 90 minutes of church (usually including a 45 minute sermon) can sit through just about anything else.

As I said, I struggle with patience myself so I would love to hear how others encourage patience in themselves and their children.



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