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Teaching Patience

Hearing children repeat requests over and over can make adults feel dizzy—especially when saying “Please wait a moment” intensifies the volume of their demand. “I need scissors!” (louder) “I need scissors!” (louder and louder) No one wants children to shout their way to gratification. Yet in this fast-moving age, children often seem to acquire a false assumption: “If you heard what I’m saying, you wouldn’t pause an instant before satisfying my needs!”

Parents often teach children to say “Excuse me,” but as we all know, chanting these words doesn’t develop consideration. Children’s assertive behaviors are so common that they seem like inevitable parts of their growth and development, with hoped-for abilities to wait emerging some time in the future. In this more enlightened and forgiving age, it’s parents who demand patience of themselves—certainly a good role model—when desires prove overwhelming to a child.

The challenge of teaching children to develop quiet self-control when they are asked to wait is a challenge we can all work on together. Holding the perspective that we have to cooperate to meet everyone’s needs in a household or a classroom provides a good foundation. “Look, Molly wants scissors too, and so does Tim. If you sit quietly, I can get the scissors out.”

We can also let a child know after the first request that we have heard what he’s saying. We can get down on the child’s level and say, “I’ve heard you. But I need you to wait. If you keep shouting, I won’t be able to do what you ask.” If we can’t comply, we can honor the child’s request by saying, “I wish I could give you scissors (ice cream, a video, a ride on my back), but I can’t right now. Maybe you’d like to draw a picture.”

Since we are so bombarded with noise, it’s hard not to react children’s intense requests with irritation: “Don’t talk to me like that.” However, if we think back to our own childhood, we can remember that we only wanted gentle reassurance that we wouldn’t be invisible to our caregivers and that our needs wouldn’t be neglected. We can expand children’s ability to self-regulate even when they feel a need intensely by commenting, “Look how quietly you’re waiting for what you want.”


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