How can I be more patient?

Parents’ impatience takes several forms. One is situational—they lose their tempers and snap at their child for his misbehavior. A second form is more general. They lack the patience to listen to him, get involved in his interests, accompany him to activities, watch him play sports, or help him with schoolwork. Both kinds of impatience can have a negative impact on children and make parents feel guilty.

All parents lose patience at times, especially when they’re rushed or busy or feeling badgered by their children’s demands: “I’ve got to get to work.” “I’m trying to pay bills. Don’t make so much noise.” “I can’t drive you to Glen’s again.” Parents experiencing stress at work or at home are especially likely to snap at their child.

Such impatience due to circumstances is often mild and temporary. More harmful is constant criticism and rudeness. Parents with a low tolerance for frustration may routinely yell at their children, ridicule them, and call them names: “Don’t be so stupid! I’ve told you a hundred times not to leave the front door open.” “All you do is whine.” “I’m not a servant. Make your own lunch.”

Parents with high expectations and a strong desire to be in control can become intolerant when things don’t go their way. They expect perfection. If their child can’t meet their standards, they react with harsh impatience. In the process, they may hurt his self-confidence, harm family relationships, and cause him to become less, rather than more, cooperative as he copies the treatment he’s received.

In less dramatic ways, parents also show impatience when they neglect to make time for their child. It takes a reordering of priorities to put aside adult concerns and answer a child’s question, look at his model rocket, walk him to the basketball court, listen to his music, go to his school assembly, or read a book to him. Even the busiest parents can stop what they’re doing several times a day to concentrate on their child. But some parent’s even ones with time to spare —don’t make their child’s needs and interests a priority.

Becoming a more patient parent takes purposeful effort and may require a change in attitude, priorities, or behavior. If you’re easily frustrated, try to make your life less stressful by easing up on your expectations. It’s more important to spend time with your child than to have a clean house. It’s better to stay calm during the early evening than to prepare a complex dish for dinner. If work or family problems are difficult to cope with, you may find stress-reduction techniques useful. You can learn about them from books, magazines, or classes.

Think about your tone of voice when you talk to your child—try using the same tone you’d like him to use. Instead of shouting, “Hurry up!” or, “Get going!” say, “Please hurry or we’ll be late.” The more you take your child’s feelings into consideration, the better his behavior is likely to be. In the long run, he’ll respond more positively to your calm words than to rude orders.

Make a decision to spend more time with him. Put your book or work down periodically, stay off the phone at night, forgo some evening plans, and get involved with him. This is not always easy, since it means giving of yourself without necessarily receiving an immediate return. But there are definite benefits. He will have you as a model of more tolerant, patient behavior. He’ll feel better about himself because you’re interested in him. And the relationship between the two of you will improve, making it easier for you to react to his behavior in a mature way. 

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