At the beginning of this year, I asked our private Facebook group what emotional life skills they felt their strong-willed children needed.  So many of the parents said that patience is something their children struggle with. 

So today we get to talk to Mike Fitch, CMHC about practical ways to teach our children patience.  Mike knows what it takes to develop patience as he himself has ADHD, he has a child with high-functioning autism, and he coaches hundreds of clients a year.

 We are grateful for his willingness to teach us some of the tricks he has learned.





Mike Fitch, CMHC

We all struggle with patience

When Celeste first asked me to talk about patience, I thought she meant parents having more patience.  Why would I think that?  Because we ALL struggle with patience.

I think knowing that helps us be more patient with our kid’s impatience.  Developing patience is a life-long process and one that we’re all working on.

Patience is a critical life skill to develop

 Even though we all struggle with patience, that isn’t an excuse to not try to develop the ability to be patient.  It is right that so many of the parents in the group wanted to help their children develop patience.

Patience is a skill that each of us need to use each and every day of our lives.  If we do not increase our ability to be patient, we could really struggle.

Why is it so important to know how to be patient?

If you’re kids aren’t patient they could really struggle at school, home, work, and socially.

Just ask yourself these questions to help you realize the importance of patience:

How are you personally struggling with patience?  

How is your impatience negatively effecting your life?

How could having more patience help you?

Here’s some other reasons patience is so important:

  1. Patience really helps us handle delayed gratification. What if your child never learned how to wait for what they wanted? What struggles could they face if they had to have what they wanted right when they wanted it? What kind of emotional, financial, social trouble could they get into if they couldn’t handle delayed gratification?
  2. Patience helps us learn better.  It takes patience to develop new skills and to perfect skills you already have.
  3. Patience helps us be tolerant of others. As ALL parents know, it takes a lot of patience to interact with other humans. There will always be people in our lives that do things that irritate us.  Our patience allows us to function in the real world and deal with the people that might be frustrating for us to be around.

My Top Tips for Teaching Patience

Tip #1 Model Patience

I always hesitate saying this, but are your kids learning impatience from you?  Do you practice delayed gratification?  Do you show tolerance of other’s in your life?  Are you often losing your cool with friends, family, or co-workers?  Are you expecting your child to be perfectly patient when you yourself are really struggling to be patient?

If you feel like you’re genuinely really patient, awesome!  Keep up the good work!

If you feel like you have room for improvement, it’s never too late to start changing.

“Children are great imitators.  Give them something great to imitate.”

You can trust that if you are modeling patience well and teaching it often, that your children will eventually follow your example.

Tip #2 Use the Marshmallow Study to Increase Your Child’s Patience

Years ago, researchers wanted to study children’s ability to be patient and how it would effect them as they grew up.

These researchers started something called the “Marshmallow Study”.  In this study, kids were given a marshmallow and told that if they could wait five minutes before eating the marshmallow, they could have a second one.

The researchers then videoed the kids to see who would wait the five minutes.

Some of the kids waited and others didn’t.  Some would touch the marshmallow, lick the marshmallow, sniff the marshmallow but still wait.

If you want to watch a quick video about the marshmallow study, here you go.

The researchers stayed in contact with the kids in the study and found that those who had the patience to wait for the second marshmallow performed better in life.  More proof that patience is a critical life skill to have.

Perform your own marshmallow study at home

 You can do the marshmallow test with your own kids.  If they struggle to wait you can use the marshmallow test to help them improve their skills.  Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Get a baseline measurement-find out how long your child can wait
    1. Put a marshmallow in front of your child
    2. Tell them if they wait five minutes, they can have a second one
    3. Time them to see how long they can wait before they eat it
    4. If they wait the full five minutes, give them a second marshmallow and be excited that you have a very patient child
    5. If they don’t wait the full five minutes, proceed to step 2
  2. Start at the baseline time, then gradually increase-Now that you know how long your child can wait for the marshmallow, you are going to help them learn how to wait longer gradually. Here’s how:
    1. Take the baseline time they can wait and add thirty seconds
      1. Example: If they only waited 30 seconds before they ate the marshmallow, you’re going to do the test again but they only have to wait 60 seconds before getting the marshmallow
    2. Give them the second marshmallow if they wait for their baseline time plus thirty seconds
    3. Keep practicing until they can do baseline plus ten easily
    4. Wait a couple of days then increase the time again
    5. Keep doing this process until they can wait the full five minutes

*This process may take months.  You don’t want to do several tests a day, rather space them out a couple of days apart.  This may seem like a silly exercise, but it will help your children increase their ability to wait.

**Keep the incentive small, but your encouragement BIG.  Kids need their parents to believe in them more than they need a treat.

Tip #3 Time to Integrate the Skills They Learned Through the Marshmallow Test Into Real Life

 Now that you know your child can wait five minutes to eat a treat, you can teach them they can also do others things for five minutes.

Does your child struggle to do their chores? Do their homework? Wait their turn for the TV?  Remind them that they can wait five minutes, they’ve proved that to you.  If they can wait five minutes for a second marshmallow, they can do anything for five minutes.

Set a timer for five minutes for whatever it is that they’re struggling with and cheer them on.  Using chores for an example, you could tell your child that you’re going to set the timer for five minutes and they get to clean their room the best they can for five minutes.  Let them know how proud you are of them when they actually do it.

Continue to apply this to other areas that your kids struggle with, gradually increasing the time as they demonstrate that they are capable.  After time, they will be showing more patience in many areas of their lives.

Patience for parents

 I did want to take a minute to share some tips I have for parents who need some help with their own patience.

Tip #1 Have appropriate expectations of your child

You have a strong-willed child and expecting them to wake up one day and behave like an easy-going child is unrealistic.  You will be able to be more patient if you can accept the realities of having a strong-willed child.

That doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate “off limits” behavior.  You can still have consequences when your child hits, back talks, etc.  You don’t have to ever let your child mistreat you or others.

But it does mean that you expect your child strong-willed child to be emotional, to want to be in charge, to go head-to-head with you.  It’s easier to be patient with if you are expecting it.

Tip #2 Don’t compare your child to someone else.

Don’t even compare your child to their siblings.  I know this is so hard.  It’s something that I struggle with myself.  But your child is unique.  It’s a lot healthier to compare them to how they were six months ago.  If you’re seeing even slight improvements, then they really are doing great.

Tip #3 Be patient when you’re trying out parenting tools to improve behavior

I have so many parents that can’t get their kids to behave and the issue is that the parents flip and flop between different parenting techniques really fast.  They don’t use a certain parenting method long enough for their kids to get used to it and learn to change.  It’s better to try something for a longer period of time before changing.  Parents need to know that if they see even a 10% decrease in negative behavior it means that you are on the right track and keep it going.

Tip #4 Take time to recharge your batteries

It is absolutely impossible to be patient all day every day if you don’t take a chance to take a break!  I have so many parents who feel like they need to be with their kids or attending to their needs 24/7.  That will wear you out and cause you to become impatient.

I really find that parents are a lot more patient and much better parents if they reserve at least 10% of their time just for them.  There’s so much unnecessary guilt around self-care but you are not doing anyone any favors if you don’t take the time to meet your own needs.

Find what renews you: a night out with friends, exercise, rock climbing, etc and add it you’re your life.  You need time to be away from the kids and away from being a parent.

You may have to be really creative to find ways to take a break.  I have a daughter with some special needs and I couldn’t find a babysitter for a long time for her.  So we’d hire a neighbor girl to come over a couple of times a week to be with her in one room and my wife and I would have a date in the other room.

Final Thoughts

Once again, remember that developing patience is a lifelong process.  It will take a lot of time but will be well worth the effort.

Be kind to yourself and your children as you all work to develop this important skill.

Links mentioned in this episode: 

Marshmallow Test

John Gottman Institute

Happy Parenting!

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