Teaching Patience to a Child

Patience requires self-control, a skill that kids learn as they grow. But lately, some parents and teachers worry that children are more impatient than ever. They wonder why kids can’t seem to focus at school and always seem distracted, wanting to move on to something else.


Diane Levin, an education professor at Boston’s Wheelock College and author of Remote Control Childhood: Combating the Hazards of Media Culture (National Association for the Education of Young People, 1998), believes there’s an increasing sense of impatience among kids in the classroom. For her book’s second printing in 2013, Levin interviewed teachers about changes they’ve seen in young children. She kept hearing the same thing – that kids have trouble staying on task.


Calling it “problem solving deficit disorder,” Levin explains, “These are the kids who were born when the huge push for media for babies began. The trouble, she insists, is that the more dependent kids become on computer screens or electronic toys, the harder it is for them to focus on solving a real-world problem.


On the other hand, Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., a Brookline psychologist and play therapy expert, wonders if parents are fostering impatience in kids without realizing it. “We’re also rushing our children a lot, and then they’re impatient with us,” says Cohen, the author of Playful Parenting (Ballantine Books, 2002). “They’ve picked that up from us because we’re often rushing them.” Think of it this way, he says: If you and your child are playing make-believe together, who’s done playing sooner? You are, most likely.


Whatever the reasons for kids’ impatience, Cohen and Levin offer these tips:


• Surrender to the moment. Whether your kids want to run from one zoo exhibit to another or just go through the entrance turnstile over and over, “join them in their world” and don’t try to push them too quickly to move on, Cohen says. You’ll be role-modeling patience.


• If your child never seems to focus on one thing for long, set aside time each week to go at his pace. “As hard as it is to bounce around from one thing to the next … stick with it a little longer and enjoy your kids,” Cohen says.


• If you have to say no to a child, acknowledge her frustration. “When we say no, there’s no reason we can’t be relaxed and light about it,” Cohen says.


• Nurture kids’ interests away from electronics. Limit screen time, but offer something else the child can do instead. Make dinner together or do a craft project. Identify their interests and play alongside them, Levin says.


• When stuck waiting in line or in the car, play games to pass the time. Try “I Spy,” where you spot something of a certain color and the child must guess what it is. Plug into a ritual instead of a device.


Deirdre Wilson is the former senior editor of Boston Parents Paper.

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27 Oct 2014

By Deirdre Wilson