Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekly Column: Teaching Patience with Patience

One of the super sneaky, extra intelligent things about small children is that they seem to have a built-in busy-ness radar. 
Need to make a phone call while your kids are quietly occupied?  Chances are very good that they will become unoccupied as soon as your conversation begins.  They’ll bound over with a pressing need, something like in-depth snack demands or frustrating sibling behaviors, and your quiet moment will be lost. 
The same scenario unfolds in the most inopportune times: the middle of a tax calculation; the critical point in dinner preparation; the single most important news segment of the broadcast. 
And the interruptions never fail to be irritating.
I imagine it’s just as irritating for our kids, though.  Can you believe the nerve of us parents?  Shushing something as significant, for example, as outlining next year’s birthday hopes?  After all, the only thing we seem to be doing is staring grumpily at a sheet of paper or talking to thin air on the other side of the telephone – nothing much.
The frustration builds on all sides until the interrupting culprit becomes an impatient mess with full meltdown potential, and the parent becomes an angry guardian of busy-ness.  Each side of the equation leads to longer interruptions. 
There are plenty of ways to try keeping them busy when we know we’ll need some alone-time.  Coloring sheets or cartoons or play-doh or any number of things may keep them temporarily amused, but in the end, those are just band-aids for a long term issue.
Children go through developmental phases which make it very difficult for them to see beyond their own, urgent needs.  Phases that make anyone else’s feelings irrelevant.  But our job as parents is to guide them through these phases by teaching them otherwise. 
In teaching children patience during legitimately busy times, I believe that one of the most important steps comes with our own actions – it’s amazing how true this is for all parenting areas.  If our children see us always placing our desires above their own, they see that as a fact of life: we get to be greedy with our desires, therefore they do, too. 
In order to help our kids learn the truth of the matter, we must show them how we respect the needs of others.   Inside the home, that means taking time to follow our children’s lead more than occasionally.    
Daily, we should pay attention to their worries and joys.  Often, we should let them help choose how to spend family playtime.  Always, we should listen with honest concern to their thoughts.  Throughout their everyday lives, we must ask their opinions and share our own in non-argumentative ways.  Once we’ve allowed our children to trust that they hold value in the home – simply by being themselves – we’ll have paved the way for a true understanding and respect of others’ time and needs. 
That way, when we parents have a real need for a few minutes of quiet for a phone call (or a splitting headache, or a serious adult conversation, or the filling out of insurance forms...), our kids will trust that we’re not just blowing them off.  They’ll understand that we’re not just putting our own needs before theirs.  They will trust us to remember their pressing need as soon as our important business has reached a stopping point. 
They will begin to understand that life takes patience, and when mom or dad tells them ‘just a minute’, they mean it. 

1 comment:

  1. first, this is a great and timely remnder. I often find it helpful with my bigger girl to lay out clear expectations. I will read thi book and then I have to makeba phone call. Remember, I need you to stay quiet while I'm on the phone. That doesn't work with a two year old though.

    When I did teacher training, our science teacher said that parents' "just a minute" really wrecked kids notions of time. Just a minute can mean a minute or 10 seconds or 10 minutes. So a minute becomes a meaningless measure of time! And even though I know this, I am not perfect in my justaminute use.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?