Teaching Character: Patience
As my mom told me just today on the phone, I’m not blessed with patience. It’s true, I’m not, but I aspire to have patience. I know it’s on the shelf in front of me and all I need do is pluck it off and put it in my pocket. Somehow I can’t yet reach it, but I try.
I bet as a parent you do, too.
Unfortunately, even as adults we don’t experience much that reinforces the beauty of patience. So we might have to go looking for it in order to teach it.
A good friend was telling me a story about her son - now a man of nearly 20 - when he was 5. The two of them were driving in the car and there was a radio segment on about standardized testing across the nation. From the backseat his little voice asked, “How do they test for patience?”
“They don’t test for patience,” she said.
In all of his 5 years, he had the wisdom to not only know that patience was something needed to navigate the world but also to wonder how one’s patience could possibly be measured.
How does a parent teach patience? It reminds me of the word ‘gentle.’
You know how on the playground little babies - who are brutes at heart only because they don’t know better and they can’t fully control their bodies yet - whack things and people, push each other down, poke out eyes. And all around them there are parents practically yelling ‘GENTLE!’ in the most ungentle voices. Urgent, loud, oft repeated “GENTLE”s emanate.
It cracks me up. I wonder what definition that translates to in tiny brains.
Fake It Till You Make It
It seems to me that whenever I’m teaching patience these days it’s when I need my child to already HAVE patience. Like to stop interrupting me. To wait her turn. Or maybe it’s me who needs to learn patience at that moment and I’m taking it out on her. Sad, but true.
Anyway, when it comes to teaching patience, the best teacher is Mother Nature. During more agrarian times when Daylight Savings was needed and people had oodles of children just to have another pair of working hands around the farm, Mother Nature’s time table ruled the roost.
If you wanted apples, you waited till they fell off the tree.
Only now you can get just about anything you want when you want it. Not the best teacher for patience. So sorry Mom Nature, we need to look elsewhere.
Or do we? OK, so if you want an apple, go to the grocery and choose from Red Delicious, Pink Lady, carmel coated or dried apples just to name a few. No falling apples here.
Practice Patient Waiting
But spring still springs after winter. Ice eventually melts and creates lovely rivers to swim in. The sun becomes warm enough to bask in. Using carefully chosen examples, Mother Nature still has some winning lessons.
Painting is an excellent activity to teach patience. You really do have to wait till the paint dries, don’t you? Sewing is good, too. Tiresome for old eyes, I tell you, but a great teacher of patience. When my daughter’s favorite nightgown ripped we, together, decided to sew it to fix it. Out came the needle and thread and I got to work. I’m still sewing it as you read this. Honestly! Sewing takes forever!! I don’t like it, but I’ll follow through to teach the point.
Gardening! Plant some seeds with your child and watch as they marvel at the sprouts. It will take a while and you’ll have to fight the boredom when nothing happens at first, but after something peeks out…yay!
Granted, there isn’t much that teaches or re-enforces delayed gratification these days, but if you start looking you’ll see examples. Even in small things. Point out how you have to wait at a red light. Stand in line. Blow on your food to cool it before you gobble it down. Anything.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Remember the old saying, “good things come to those who wait”? Well, I don’t know how true it is, but the saying comes in handy. You can also say “practice patient waiting” to remind your children to have patience. Often this works well in reverse, as in “You really waited patiently while so and so was playing with the ball.”
The entire notion of taking turns can be an excellent example of patience. Little kids somehow seem to understand turn taking, even if they don’t do it so readily.
Since we are all moving so fast maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to stop and figure this patience thing out. That would be a lovely heirloom, wouldn’t it?
photo credit: Indy Charlie