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Patient parenting

Patience, patience, patience. I received a question from Lizzardbits, who has been very patient waiting for my answer while I was off enjoying myself on vacation with my family. Here is her question:

I'd like to be a more patient parent---to slooooooow doooowwwwnnn any tips?

It turns out she isn't the only one that wants to be a more patient parent. In fact, a 1999 York University study commissioned by Today's Parent found that patience was the top skill parents felt they needed and impatience was the number-one attitude they didn't want to pass on to their children.Not only is being patient more pleasant for all involved, I also find that it is more effective. If I am impatient, my son tends to dig in his heels and be stubborn and my daughter gets whiny and clingy.

Good things come to those that wait

Parents are under so much pressure these days from relatives, friends and peers. It used to be that people maybe knew a few others with children their age, but now with the Internet and online forums some moms are interacting with hundreds of other moms whose babies were born in the same month.

  • Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?

  • Did your baby roll over yet?

  • Is your baby crawling?

  • Any first steps?

  • How many words does she have?

  • Is your child toilet trained yet?

  • Is he walking up and down stairs on his own?

  • Is she using a fork and spoon?

  • Can she count to 10? Recite the alphabet?

Whether it is because they are competitive or just worried about their child's development vis-à-vis others, parents push their children to do things or learn things before they are perhaps ready. I think that learning to be a patient parent begins with having realistic expectations about child development and also not feeling the need to push our children to reach milestones before they are ready. Just let them learn on their own, when they are ready and when they express an interest. Trust them and respect the fact that it is their body and their life. Nora Rock says it very well in her article Learning Patient Parenting (it takes her a while to get to the point though, so be patient!).

Embracing Mañana

I just returned from a vacation in Cuba, which got me thinking about the mañana attitude as it relates to parenting. Generally this term, which means "tomorrow" is reflective of a more laid back culture or lifestyle. In the United States and Canada we are always in a rush and always on a schedule. I know that certainly one of the impatience triggers for me is when I need to be somewhere or want to get something done. If we're just going outside to the park, I don't care how long my son takes to put his shoes on, but if we're late for a scheduled activity I get impatient.

So I think that perhaps one solution to more patient parenting is to slow down, realize not everything needs to be done now and in a hurry, and just enjoy life rather than scheduling and rushing. Part of that is questioning your own motives in the moment. Why do you want your child to hurry up and finish? Is it because you are done and figure he's had long enough to finish? Is it because you have something else to do and if so can that wait so that you can give your child the time he needs? Is it because you have promised to be somewhere? That brings me to the other part, which is questioning whether you have over committed yourself and your child. If you are constantly rushing from one place to the next (doctor's appointment, haircut, playgroup, music lessons, swimming lessons, coffee date) have you taken on too much? Should you plan some more downtime into your schedule so that you have more time to be patient? More downtime gives you more time to be patient and also leaves more time for play and cuddles!

Great "in the moment" tips

The tips I gave above are things you can do to create an environment more conducive to patient parenting. However, there are also things you can do in the spur of the moment when you catch yourself about to be impatient. Zenhabits has a great post on how to become a patient parent that lists some of these tips. Some of the key ones include:

  • Counting to 10 and taking deep breaths

  • Pretend someone is watching and act accordingly

  • Take the time to teach your child and consider how what you are about to say will help your child (and don't say it if it won't help!)

  • Visualize what to do in difficult situations or ask yourself what your mom (or other patience role model in your life) would do

Err on the side of love

The Zenhabits post that I quoted above ends by saying:
Bonus tip: just love. Instead of reacting with anger, teach yourself to react with love. Your child spills something or has a messy room or breaks your family heirloom? Yells at you or gets in trouble at school? React with love. It’s the best solution.

BarelyKnitTogether said once on a comment on this blog and repeated in her post The Life I've Created:
My feeling is it is almost always best to err on the side of mercy and love. There are many parenting ‘mistakes’ that can be ameliorated by lots and lots of love, and the feelings of security it can bring.

I think this is a great mantra to remember when you are about to lose your patience. If you don't know what to do and are about to throw your hands up in the air, try a hug. Worst case scenario, you create a connection instead of causing a rift. Best case scenario, that is what your child really needed and he starts cooperating after the hug because his needs have been met.

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Reader Comments (20)

Another great post. I think so much of our impatience with our children comes from our culturally reinforced notion that control is a good thing: we are so used to being 'in charge' that it can be hard to relinquish that. I have been trying to teach myself that to surrender is brave. It seems to me that motherhood, like birth, is all about surrendering to the moment. Not that it's easy!

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermymilkspilt

You are so sweet to mention that quote. As the parent of a special-needs child who is especially demanding and *very* aggressive, I find laughter is also a good tool. If it's always about being in control, it becomes a battle of wills that no one will ever "win." But to defuse the situation with playfulness allows everyone to relax and step back from the problem.
Now, that's not to say that I am perfect, by any means. No one is (right? please tell me I'm right!). I am trying to learn now how to be okay with that.

Thanks for putting this valuable lesson out there. Hugs!

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbarelyknittogether

Nice post.
I find that having a wider perspective from the getgo is crucial, and a huge dash of sense of humour.

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMon

@barelyknittogether - You are right! No one is perfect, though some claim to be. Although I am not perfect, I'm also not willing to concede that I am good enough. I do what I can to try to be a better mother and a better person each day. Some days it works out, some days it doesn't!

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I love these suggestions, and barelyknittogether's perspective. I've found that my best reaction, when I am fed up to my eyeballs and tempted to react with emotion that will scare or demean my child, is a good round of tickling. When I absolutely can't get words and games and gentle urging to work, and I want to just force my child's body to obey my will, I tickle the heck out of him. We both laugh, I lose the urge to control him (or wring his neck), and he's willing to follow my lead.
Anger makes me want to be physical, and tickling (gently, and only a willing recipient) is enormously cathartic for that need to be physical in a positive way.

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNaptimewriting

this is the hardest thing for me.

i genetically have inherited little patience and unfortunately, my daughters have inherited that trait from me.

being only three girls of little patience in one house, some days it's really hard to keep cool.

we try really hard, but it's a daily battle.

one that's worth perfecting though.

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterunderthebigbluesky

I love the reminder to react with love. Often I don't! I think I need to get that tatooed on my hand so it can remind me....

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterthreegirlpileup

I think you make a very good point.

One thing to consider though, is that sometimes we may not have as much patience simply because we are too tired. I remember reading somewhere that on an average we Americans get about 6 hours of sleep each day. We live busy lives, and to your point, maybe make too many commitments; and as a result end up being tired, disoriented and of course impatient.

I don't want to sound like I am using an excuse, but for us, raising our twins with two full time jobs has been particularly demanding. We try hard to keep our patience and give our full attention to the children when we get home. But there are times, when we find ourselves losing patience. In those moments, we have to remind ourselves that it is not really fair to the children.

Anyway, a very thoughtful and well-researched post. Thank you.

December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTwinToddlersDad

[...] adjust, to be given an opportunity to learn. When transitions are necessary, make them gently, be patient, take the opportunity to teach and to explain.  Be sure to communicate, come up with solutions [...]

December 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbrupt « PhD in Parentin

[...] with it. Instead, find a way to gently support your child through that transition. This requires patience, as so many aspects of parenting do, but I think a gentle approach in these situations is the most [...]

[...] with it. Instead, find a way to gently support your child through that transition. This requires patience, as so many aspects of parenting do, but I think a gentle approach in these situations is the most [...]

I blame those forums of "moms whose babies were born in the same month" for the rise in induction and c-section rates. It is sheer torture to sit around watching women due the same month (or two) going into labor, whilst your own body/baby seem perfectly content to stay pregnant until the end of time.

So, women start rushing into the doctor, signing up for their inductions and interventions (even if they're not necessarily full term.) The way they see it, if a woman who was due 3.5 weeks before me has her baby already, why can't I have mine?!?!?!

Then they come home with a nice big uterine scar and a story of a failed induction, and they wonder why it happened to them. That is certainly how I ended up with my uterine scar.

Why? Pressure, internal and external, to rush your body through a process. I couldn't go near the forums during my last few weeks of my second pregnancy. If I saw another induction-turned-cesarean story I was going to lose my mind.

On another note, when my son still wasn't walking at 16.5 months, I had no patience left. I was worried. Worried that there was something wrong; worried that he might be autistic. Panic flowed through my veins constantly.

Then on the very day he turned 17 months old (2 days before our first interview with the developmental specialists) the boy just got up and started walking. And he walked like he had been walking the whole time. 2 days later the specialists said he appeared to be right on, or even ahead, of most other children's development.

Since then I have realized that he will do whatever he's going to do whenever he decides he's going to do it - and not a minute sooner. This child has taught me patience better than any class or book or therapist ever could have.

April 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheFeministBreeder

[...] Patience IS a virture and it’s vital to enjoying your children according to PHDinParenting. [...]

[...] to lead in developing their independence can take some of the burden off of us, but it requires a good dose of patience and a focus on teaching, not training our children. It requires confidence in our [...]

[...] I wrote about in toilet learning and poop terror. We still have challenges.  Even when we try to be patient and not push anything, it can still be stressful, like it continues to be with my daughter’s [...]

[...] adjust, to be given an opportunity to learn. When transitions are necessary, make them gently, be patient, take the opportunity to teach and to explain.  Be sure to communicate, come up with solutions [...]

[...] to no downtime from one to the next, I’m not as patient as I would like to be. My lack of patience and my bad discipline choices (citing consequences I wish I hadn’t, offering rewards, [...]

[...] of the time, I try to be patient when the kids are doing things that make me seethe. I can handle my kids being defiant if that is [...]

[...] I recommend patience and listening. It can be hard when they are melting down to listen to what they are saying, but I [...]

[...] bad days, when they do come up, are about survival. I try to remain calm and patient and channel those strategies that I’ve practiced during the good times. But I also try to [...]

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