Natalie, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, is a freelance writer who is always searching for what lies within the potential.
Parents will often tell you that parenting is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. Nannies recount similar sentiments as do other professional and family caretakers of small children. Babysitters sit for kids that they enjoy being around and that are not high effort. Grandparents, aunts and uncles fondly share pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram of them with their young charges having an all around good time. Teachers tell parents about how delightful their child is, while ballet and soccer instructors impart colorful anecdotes that show how wonderfully talented the kids are, as well as how they are just a joy to be around.
Anyone who works with, cares for or is just around children regularly know that these halcyon experiences are not the whole story. Spending a lot of time with children especially when you are responsible for them in some way, can be overwhelming and stressful. It’s not unusual that we may lose our patience when we have too much to do and too little energy, especially when kids seem to never tire. It can also be difficult because while life can be unpredictable so can children who end to be endlessly spontaneous.. Keep some of these quotes in mind when you feel you are starting to lose your cool and increase your ability to model patience for the children in your life.
I have worked with and been around many kids in my life. Yet it took me a while to get this one. I think when we are in some way responsible for children, we feel that we have a responsibility to make sure that the child behaves correctly. While this may be the case for drawing on the living room wall, dumping the cereal all over their carpeted bedroom, crossing the street without permission or supervision or letting the dog out of the fenced in yard, there are plenty of other things that I learned that I didn’t have to be so rigid about.
As soon as I let myself think this way I remembered that not everything is black or white, right or wrong, and that lots. While coloring on the living room walls was a definite no-no, drawing in chalk on the sidewalk, or painting with washable paints in the bathtub was perfectly fine. Overall, the less I tried to control a child, the less I tried to exert my will over theirs, the less I try to demand obedience the more cooperative, happy and relaxed the child was. And the more happy and relaxed they were, the more I was as well.
While you can do things or tell yourself things as coping strategies for handling normal but frustrating child behavior, taking steps to avoid it all together when possible precludes the need for being patient. Remember to respect the fury of nature - of the child’s nature.
I find this one to be an important reminder. One way I’ve learned to be more patient is to think about how I’d react if someone was treating me like I was treating a child I was with.
Children can dawdle around, forget they are on a schedule and generally rely on adults for telling them when to be where. So they don’t plan ahead as that’s the adults job. This can lead to disaster when there is a tight schedule that has to be maintained.
When someone becomes impatient with me and yells, I often decide I’m not going to make myself crazy just because they’re in a hurry and instead slow down. If they didn’t give me enough warning that’s not my fault. Similarly when I don’t give a child enough warning, perhaps because I forgot that children need more time to do things and more reminders, yelling at them isn’t likely to improve the situation.
If you aren’t feeling patient, practice the age old adage, “Fake it til you make it.” It isn’t realistic to think you’ll never feel impatient when you’re with kids. At the same time you don’t want to show them that impatience. So even though you may be late for a meeting as the child you’re with proudly tries to show you their newly learned skill of tying their shoes over the course of 10 minutes, practice smiling and saying something encouraging. Just make sure you aren’t tapping your foot as you say it.
Similar to the last quote, this saying reminds us that the willingness to wait for a child to do something isn’t patience by itself. For example, sometimes we agree to wait - for the child to go to bed, get their things together, get dressed or eat breakfast. But then we sigh, cross our arms or just generally look as unpleasant as we feel. The message that the child hears is, “I may seem to be waiting for you but I have no patience for what you are doing.”
This kind of double bind communication can create anxiety in the children we have relationships with. When we want our actions to match our words, it’s important to pay attention to our non-verbal communication. When feeling impatience increase despite telling a child you’ll wait for them, refer to the previous quote.
When we remain calm it allows us to think things through. Our rational mind is still in charge and we can weigh our words and actions. Even if we have justifiable cause to be upset or hurt we can prevent ourselves from reacting based solely on our emotions. When we say things out of anger we often say things we don’t mean or even if we do mean them, they are frequently said with the primary purpose being to hurt the other people worse than they hurt us or to re-establish control over a situation. Adults realize that not everything they think should be said out loud. However, children have to learn when to filter what they say, instead of just saying whatever they think. They also need to learn how to regulate their emotions.
When children get upset they may dissolve into tears or lash out and say hurtful things. We don’t have trouble understanding that crying results from hurt but may have more difficulty perceiving that explosive anger may be an attempt to cover up that same hurt. When we respond back to a child with anger it suggests to the child we don’t understand that they are hurting.
Children look to adults for guidance as well as rely on us for support, compassion and empathy when they are hurting. Responding to anger in a child with anger can communicate that their pain isn't important and if done regularly they may come to learn that they aren't allowed to hurt. This can lead to long term emotional difficulties when something happens that hurts them as they never permit themselves to seek support from others when this occurs, making them more vulnerable to emotional distress.
We all lose our temper sometimes and say things we don’t mean. We may realize it when we calm down and make amends in regards to whoever we lashed out at. When our anger is triggered by the words or actions of others who may also be angry or in the wrong, we hopefully find a way to work through it with the other person or at least try to do so such that whatever the result of the interaction is, it is based on rational thoughts and decisions, not emotions.
However, we may not think that we need to do this with children. We may feel that they were acting so absurd that it doesn’t bear revisiting. However, regardless of how silly their actions or words may seem to us, they were perfectly reasonable to the child. The only way children learn how to process their hurt is through experiencing the way an adult does so. It is up to us to teach them, and the best way to do so is to apologize, make amends if we reacted inappropriately while helping them work through and understand their emotional reactions.
When we’re around children sometimes we forget that they are learning things for the first time or that they have just begun to learn a new skill. As adults, when someone teaches us something we are expected to have the skills to do what it takes to retain it. In school we are supposed to have developed study habits, at work we should have mechanisms for staying on task and completing assignments on time, at home when we have families we are expected to follow a certain schedule so the whole family can operate in sync.
But these are skills that we learn over time and which children don’t yet have. Sometimes it can be frustrating to have to repeat things over and over again for children when the don’t remember something or to maintain an attitude of patience when they they are practicing a new skill that takes them a long time to carry out.
Yet making sure we remain patient when interacting with children not only allows us to take joy in their accomplishments when they come it models for the child that learning new things in life takes time but in the long run perseverance pays off. As children are always looking to us to gage whether the way they do things is correct, patience and encouragement while they try and fail and ultimately succeed lets them know that continued effort, even in the face of failure, will bring them success.