The Power of Patience

How we teach influences our children as much, or more, than what we teach. If we hope to raise children who love to learn, have confidence in their ability to learn, and are able to think critically, then patience will be our biggest ally.

When a concept or skill appears overwhelming, leaving the child discouraged or frustrated, do we become anxious because the pace will now have to slow down, delaying all we hoped to accomplish? In our anxiety do we try to rush our child through smaller steps, or simply urge him to memorize what he doesn’t understand in order to move on? Before we can substitute patience for anxiety, we need to recognize why we are concerned about this interference with our set pace. Do we want to brag about the grade level our child has reached? Are we embarrassed at the thought that he is lagging behind the children of friends or family? Are we afraid that our right to homeschool will be challenged? Or are we just unsure of how to teach the subject when the resource we’re using proves confusing or doesn’t provide enough practice?

In every instance, we need to set our eyes back on our goal, reminding ourselves that we should not be working for the approval of men. If we feel inadequate to teach the subject, we need to look at options—different or additional materials, or perhaps using a tutor. Then we will be able to react with patience, giving our children the gift of time: time to make discoveries, time to take baby steps until understanding is reached, time to dig deeply into a subject and share his opinion about what has been learned, time to love learning and grow confident in his ability to meet each challenge. And, as we direct his thinking with questions instead of hurrying him to merely recall content heard or read, we are also teaching him how to think.

Wanting our child to move at a pace comfortable for us, but not him, is only one of several unrealistic expectations that can lead to anxiety. Frequently, we also want him to work independently for long periods so that we can complete some of the many household chores we must juggle. He may not be able to meet our expectations for several reasons—he is too young, he dislikes the materials or task, or he is easily distracted without one-on-one help. A child’s developmental age, his learning style, and his personality or temperament all influence how he learns and how long he can work at a task independently. Fussing, threatening, or using grades as a motivator will ultimately fail.

In public and private schools, grades are the enforcer of “the way we do things,” Children desire approval, and do want to be successful. Therefore, grades may work as an incentive for awhile, especially if parents offer some sort of reward for high grades. However, if the child is continually frustrated by a pace that is too fast or too slow, or finds the resources too difficult or too boring, he will eventually become weighed down with discouragement. Then he will hate anything “educational,” deciding he is “stupid” or that school is “stupid,” and either get passed along with a minimum of work completed, or flunk until, at sixteen, he can legally drop out. Those that stick it out, continuing to work for grades, will have no incentive to continue learning beyond high school. Is that the environment we want to create?

Once again, we need to remind ourselves of the goal. If we’ve been simply imitating the school system, then we must learn more about children and how they learn. We must become better equipped to make choices about the most suitable teaching methods and resources. If our child daydreams or finds excuses to avoid sitting and filling-in-the-blanks, for example, we might then realize his need to use a hands-on approach. Instead of making our schedules more important than his needs, we would simply try to fit in household chores while overseeing his work.

Having done all that, we may still find our nerves frayed over behaviors that we have every right to expect, but which a child tries diligently to avoid. Children do want their way—whatever is the most fun and the least effort. They learn early how to push our buttons so that we will give in. So, here are a few tips that may get you through the rough spots.

First, be sure there are suitable consequences for each behavior you want to change. If spanking is the only consequence, the child will become sullen or angry. If parents just complain, blaming the child and fussing over the situation without enforcing any other consequence, he will soon learn to simply endure those outbursts. In order for children to realize that they are responsible for their actions, appropriate consequences should be applied consistently and matter-of-factly—which requires patience.

For example, a child of four had developed the habit of whining and crying almost before he finished explaining his request. He had learned that tears got his parents attention immediately, as well as a quick response (usually in his favor) to the reason he wanted their attention. Once aware of the cause of his constant tears, the parents reacted differently. They turned to him and said, “I can’t understand you when you cry,” then continued whatever they were doing until the tears stopped. Once he was composed, they gave him attention. In this way, over time, they changed his bad habit into acceptable behavior.

In another case, chewing with an open mouth was the targeted behavior. Reminders and discussions had had no effect. A simple consequence did. The boy was told that he would get one reminder, after that, he would be excused from the table and would not be allowed to eat again until the next meal. After carrying out those consequences only two times, that bad habit was broken.

Carrying out reasonable consequences consistently can be quite tiring. Children, especially if they’ve gotten their way for quite a while, pull out all the stops when they see you aren’t backing down. As behavior worsens, you may think this approach won’t work, but stick it out. Continue to be firm, but calm. Don’t allow him to pull you into an emotional debate. The storm will pass.

I heard a definition of patience recently that puts all this into perspective. Patience is applying faith day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and day out. . . .We entered a marathon when we took on the task of “training up our children in the way they should go.” Now, let’s run that race with patience, that we may attain our goal.