When will we get to play sports? How long do we have to wear these masks? When can things at school be back to normal? If you are hearing these questions these days, you might have an impatient child on your hands. We all want things to be different than they are right now. We grow tired of the inconvenience, weary of the constant adjustments and long for better days again.
I remember when my granddogs began to be big enough to knock you over while you tried to fill their food bowl. They could already beat you bloody with their tail wagging and now they wanted to eat as soon as the sound of the food hit their ears. “Wait!” their owners said. That didn’t work the first time. They didn’t know what the word “wait” meant. They had to be trained.
Children aren’t dogs but they still have to be trained. Learning how to wait is one of the marks of maturity. Psychologists call it delayed gratification. You are hungry but you have to prepare the food before you can eat. You want to play with your friends, but you have to wait until they arrive because you don’t live that close together. You want to play basketball, but football season comes first. Later in life, you applied for the job but now you have to wait for the answer—and you’ll have to wait several days for that first paycheck. All of life requires waiting.
Learning to wait involves controlling where you focus your thoughts. If you are counting how many days you can’t play basketball because it is football season, you may find your impatience increasing. If you focus on how little money you have while you wait on that first paycheck, you might think you will starve to death before it comes. Spending your time planning how you will spend those first few dollars might be a better task for while you wait.
Often the reward is the entire reason we wait. If you pick the tomatoes while they are green, you’ll never enjoy the sweetness of a juicy, vine ripened, red tomato. If you think you are ready for the game before you have spent enough time in practice, you’ll probably end up performing poorly and losing the game. The reward isn’t as sweet if we don’t have the patience to wait on the right time to enjoy it.
Some training requires outside feedback in order to be effective. A chart of jobs around the house showing the amount of money that can be earned for doing them can help kids save money for items they want. The dogs had to be restrained with a leash or given some unpleasant experiences when they refused to sit and wait for the food to be dispensed. Words, warnings and consequences help with the training when natural consequences won’t get the job done.
Patience is valued when we focus on the rewards of waiting and enjoy the end result. Recognizing the hard work by pointing to all the patience that must have been shown helps a child connect patience and rewards. We can use our words, stickers on a chart or things like hugs of appreciation to help tie tangible rewards to the values that cannot be seen.
Being patient ourselves is one of the best training tools. Demonstrating the benefit of regular exercise, saving up and paying cash for a big item or recognizing that an even better job came at the end of a long search helps our children seen that waiting patiently is a value worth developing.