By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Parenting requires a great deal of patience. Children can really press our buttons, and sometimes, you may need to really work hard to keep calm. They can constantly ask us for things, and it can feel overwhelming because their requests seem endless. But there is someone else who also deserves generous patience. You. It is okay to cut yourself slack and have patience with your progress as a parent. Changing old habits is a process, and it must be done gradually. It’s like a doctor that gives you medicine and says, “Take one pill every day for two weeks.” What if you said, “I’m going to get better really fast. I’m going to take all 14 pills in one day!” How well would that work? The same goes for parenting counseling.
Allow Yourself Time to Learn
I give my advice to parents one drop at a time. As you are learning how to be patient with your child, you need to be gentle with yourself as well.
Communication and discipline habits have been years in the making. We tend to raise our children the same way we were raised, even if we disagree with the inherited approach. It may take time to get used to reducing unhelpful practices, such as sarcasm, lectures, warnings, name-calling, punishments, yelling, criticism, and threats. Just becoming aware of the mistakes you might be making is a tremendous accomplishment and needs celebrating. Be patiently persistent with yourself, and lasting changes can occur. For example, you may find yourself repeatedly yelling and criticizing your children for leaving a light on. Gradually, you can learn to calmly say, “Kids, the light.” Saying it this way does not criticize or boss them around, and therefore, they feel less annoyed, more respected and happier to comply. Most importantly, taking a measured tone further avoids harming the parent-child relationship.
You Can Choose to Respond With Firm, Gentle Care
There are many behaviors that parents think deserve punishment, but can really be tolerated with a little gritting of our teeth. Let’s take running around a bit in a store or other public place. This can be slightly annoying to other adults and embarrassing to parents. It stings to have people looking down their noses at you. But, the truth is children are people too, and they need to be allowed to express their developing personalities to a certain extent, which they often do by being exuberant. It pays to tolerate a certain amount of running or playing because this is normal behavior, and children are also legitimate members of society who have the right to use public space in a way that’s healthy for them. So, it’s a good idea to avoid overreacting with punishment. You can ask them gently to simmer down or you can distract them with an engaging activity, such as getting bananas from the produce section. But never expect perfect behavior.
Or, let’s say you child keeps coming home late from playing outside, and you keep feeling angry and worried about him. A young child cannot be held responsible for keeping track of a curfew. An adult can responsibly show up for work every day at the right time (usually but not always). How does a child grow into that adult? The answer is gradually!
As a parent learning how to be patient with your child, you can come to understand that many children are on the borderline of being mature enough to handle the responsibility of coming home on time.
They get engrossed in what they’re doing and don’t have the ability to organize like clockwork. Even adults forget sometimes!
Even so, the pleasure of playing can be so intense that children just lack the resolve to overcome it and tear themselves away to come home. They need help to accomplish this. They need multiple reminders. They need strategies to figure out why they have so much trouble remembering. Certainly an alarm watch would be one way to remind a child. You may find it’s just much easier to go out and get them when playtime ends. Punishment will usually not work, because it’s just beyond most children’s ability to consistently remember a schedule. So we need to have patience not expect a higher level of responsibility than the child is capable of.
As a final example, let’s say an older child keeps using tools and leaving them out irresponsibly. You can speak with the child and try to remind him of the importance of cleaning up and treating objects with care. You may have to lock up your tools, as he simply can’t handle the responsibility of using them. Therefore, punishing and yelling will not help because he lacks the maturity and self-control to do what you want him to do no matter how much you punish him. You may have to make it your business to supervise and see that the tools get put back, because it might be beyond your child’s ability to consistently remember. As with so many examples of frustrating situations, it is important to distinguish unrealistic expectations. If you can meet your child at his level and remember that, at his developmental stage, he lacks maturity and self-control, you can find more effective ways to respond to irritating behaviors.
You and Your Child Can Learn Together!
As you learn how to be patient with your child, remember to have patience with yourself. I encourage you to adopt the ideas presented in this blog gradually. Then little by little, your relationship will flourish.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on my website, or download one of my informative free reports. If you are facing challenges with how to be patient with your child, and would like treatment and guidance from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!