In a recent parent survey, I sent out regarding the challenges parents face during this COVID-19 crisis, I heard one thing over and over: Parents wish they had more patience with their children.
Patience is one of those things we wish and may even pray for, but still, it feels like it’s an unreachable goal because kids are so darn good at pushing our buttons.
But one thing I’ve learned after being a mom for 33 years is that patience is like a muscle; it grows stronger as it’s exercised.
No weightlifter starts with a 200-pound weight. They start with small weights, maybe 25, 50–and as they learn to conquer those, they keep increasing the weights.
No parent—or maybe I should say, very few parents— are born naturally with an abundance of patience. But as they exercise it in little ways, they get better and better at it.
If you’d like to grow your patience muscles, then I have a 5-step exercise plan for you:
Breathe deeply and walk away, if necessary.
The first baby step you can take is to walk away or give yourself a time-out if you feel your patience wearing thin. If you have to walk away, tell your child, “Mom/Dad needs to take a quick break. When I get back, we will talk about this.”
Whatever it takes for you to calm down, do it. Deep breathing, counting to 10 or sending your child to his or her room. This is so important because I guarantee that what you say in anger and what you say when calm is two different things.
Be slow to speak; quick to listen.
Once you feel you are somewhat calm, listen to your child. When you really listen, you have a better chance of understanding them. This means you’ll have to stop talking while they are, don’t interrupt, and let them speak without your criticism or correction.
Seek to understand.
As you listen, seek to understand instead of being concerned if your child is listening to you. Try to figure out why they’re acting a certain way and why they respond as they do. There’s always an underlying reason for your child’s behavior. Seeking to understand will help you focus on how to resolve the problem, instead of attacking the person.
Look at the bigger picture.
It’s not all about the messy room, the delayed chores, or their lackluster effort in practice. Ask yourself, what am I actually mad about and will it really matter in 5 years? If your child’s messy room matters, then work with them to find a resolution. If your child’s delayed chores matter, talk to them about the importance of keeping your word and doing things in a timely manner. If motivating them in sports is important, then work with them to find a way that helps them want to work harder.
Think about how your words will sound to your child.
If parents taped themselves, they would probably be embarrassed or horrified. Listen in the bleachers during a game and you’ll hear yourself in the voices of other parents. How does it sound?
I always encourage parents to filter their words. Think about what you are about to say and how it will sound to your child. I understand that filtering is not a realistic goal for every word that comes out of your mouth, but if you can start by filtering your responses in conversations that are about sensitive topics. It’s a very good start.
As you exercise your patience muscles, start by being patient with yourself. The more you take small steps in patience-building, the stronger your patience will become. It will take time but eventually, your parenting patience will hold up when your child seems to be doing everything they can to make you crack.
Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help all parents raise champions. You can find out more at rcfamilies.com.