Recently a friend asked me, “How can I be more patient with my kids?”
“Don’t pray for it,” I joked. “Because then you’re asking for trouble!”
The truth is, learning patience is hard. There is no quick fix. No easy formula.
When our kids want to be strong athletes, we tell them,You must exercise so your muscles grow strong and can stand up under the strain of competition. There is no shortcut to becoming a better athlete. It takes work.
Patience is like that too. It is an emotional muscle that must be exercised so it can grow strong and stand up under the strain of conflict. There is no shortcut to patience. It takes time and work.
After 24 years of parenting, I’ve discovered that these five exercises help me be a more patient parent.
1. Seek to understand. Rather than being so concerned about being heard and being understood, seek to understand your child first. Try to figure out why he is acting a certain way, why he responds like he does.
2. Be slow to speak; quick to listen. It is only when you really listen to your kids that you will understand. Sometimes that means you must shut up until they are done talking. Don’t always be interrupting when they are telling you something. There are times when you need to let them speak without criticism, comment, or correction.
3. Step back and see the bigger picture. Because there really is one. It’s not all about the messy room, the cluttered house, the strange piercing or tattoo. Ask yourself, What is really at stake here? Will this really matter in 10, or 5, or even 2 years?
4. Think about how your words will sound to your child. If parents taped themselves, they would probably be embarrassed or horrified at how they sound.
Did you know that when you nag and get impatient in order to get your kids to respond, you are training your kids to only respond when you nag or get impatient? Spend a little time in the grocery store or Walmart line and you’ll hear yourself in the voices of other impatient parents. Yes, even good parents lose it.
And did you ever notice how parents filter their words to kids when they are around others? Is it really okay to talk rough and impatiently to your child when no one else is around? If you don’t want others to hear you talk that way to your kids, then should you really be talking that way at all?
5. Breathe deeply and walk away if necessary. My dad got angry. He just never took it out on me. Often, he’d send me to my room and tell me to “think about what I’d done,” then call me back in 30 minutes. What I learned later is that he was giving himself time to calm down more than he was giving me time to mull over my actions.
Whatever it takes for you to calm down, do it. Deep breathing, counting to 10, sending your child to his room, excusing yourself to be alone for a few minutes, praying. Because I guarrantee that what you say impulsively in anger and what you say when you are calm will be two different things.
You don’t have to master all 5 of these exercises at once. Practice one until it comes a habit (it will probably never be easy). Then move on to the next one. Eventually, your patience muscle will be strong enough so that self-control will become more of a way of life.
And for the record, I’m still exercising.