If you want to cultivate your child’s patience, you must be willing to replace your judgements with curiosity. For that, all you need are these three questions. And some patience of your own. (This is the second article of two on patience)
It’s the first day of our fall holiday and my smallest boy has just cut his lip. Actually his older brother just punched him in the mouth. As I hear him cry, I notice my tempers rise, and I struggle to stay with them through this too.
All day they’ve been impatient. Daddy can we make rubber band guns? When is the glue dry? They fidget. They’re bouncing up and down. At lunch they yell at each other.
I don’t know what’s going on. This is quite unusual. Fortunately, my wife has better memory than I do.
She tells me this happens every holiday. As our children adjust to being away from kindergarden and school, they inevitably throw a fit or a tantrum. It takes a day or two for them to get used to our new routines, to being away from their friends, to being with each other day in and day out.
At least that’s what my wife tells me, and I believe her.
A Child Is Like a Carrot
It’s easy to see our child’s impatience as poor behavior, as something requiring our forceful intervention and clear discipline. Some of us may even fear that if we don’t stop this right now, we’ll pay for it later. Give an inch, etc. So perhaps we come down hard to stop our child’s rising frustration and bewilderment.
We may find some respite then, we may stem their surge of emotion temporarily, but we do so at the expense of learning something far more valuable.
Impatience shows up when our child is stressed, overwhelmed or confused; and how our child responds in a given situation depends on her character. One child may grow impatient when she doesn’t solve a challenge. Another might find too much input bewildering. A third may become impatient when she is slower than others.
If we chose a strategy that demands our child’s obedience, we’re commiting ourselves to continuous control. This approach costs us a lot of energy, and creates an unsafe, conditional environment for our child, marked by threats and adult assertiveness.
A more easeful approach is to use these everyday moments to help our child think her way through a problem and out of a pressing situation, using what we know about our child to imagine what it must be like for her, and what would be most helpful.
Like us, our children are responsive to their surroundings. Their levels of peacefulness, joy, gratitude, helpfulness and compassion are an indication of how nourished they are by the people they interact with and the contexts they find themselves in.
One of our tasks as fathers then is to be willing to learn again and again how we can provide a consistently safe, nurturing environment that meets the needs of our child.
A carrot can either grow long and thick come August, or remain stunted and threadlike even by late fall. What carrots express of their potential is related to the soil in which they grow, to the rainfall, to hours of sunlight, to wind and temperatures and the hatching patterns of insect broods.
Our children are much the same–day to day they are responding to apparent and more subtle shifts in their environment. As fathers, it is a wholesome habit to remember this about our child, if we are to understand how to help her through her impatience, and cultivate our child’s patience instead.As fathers our task is to learn how to provide a consistently safe, nurturing environment. Click To Tweet
Becoming a Trusted Guide
When my wife reminded me of the bigger picture, it became clear that my sons were reacting to a shift in their routines and surroundings. Their impatience was partly an expression of this, and I knew I needed to take this into account as a dad.
I know–it would be far easier if we could make it all about our child. I’m often tempted by that myself. Then we would know exactly what to do and say whenever her impatience begins to rattle the china and shake our foundations. Then we could say our bit and be done with it. Or repeat at greater volume and more forceful insistence a second time, if we weren’t quite heard the first.
This requires that we’re comfortable with the silence that ensues, or with seeing our child avert her eyes and withdraw into a safe world within.
The other route–which promises instead to deepen our relationship with our child over time–asks that we take on more responsibility as fathers. Acknowledging that she is a responsive, sensitive being in a web of relations, it asks of us that we pay a bit closer attention to her life, that we become more skilled at responding.
This is why being a present dad is like being a trusted guide for our child–our job is to show her that we know how to escort her safely through a sometimes bewildering landscape, a terrain that we have travelled many times before her and therefore know better too. Our compassion is her safety line on this route.Curiosity is the antidote to judgement. Click To Tweet
Stepping Stones That Lead to Patience
This is not something we learn often from books or parenting workshops. This is something we learn as fathers when our hearts are open and, if we’re so fortunate, through the compassionate guidance and support of our partner, good friends or wise elders.
It’s easy to get lost here, or turn back to ways that give us short-term respite in our homes at the expense of long-term ease. So stay with me just a bit longer if you will. I believe this is important.
If we continue down this route of expanding our horizons, we find a few stepping stones that bring us closer to our child. With each step, our understanding grows of how we might support our child who is now in the throes of impatience.
I want to share with you what some of these stones are. Maybe you know them already, maybe a few of them are new to you. We may not have visited the same places in our fathering.
When time is short and our energies frayed, we readily jump to conclusions about what is happening with our child. Maybe we judge her as impolite, or rude, or careless. Maybe this is what her behavior is saying in this moment. And there may be good reason to bring it to a speedy halt.
If, for instance, the holiday starts with one brother drawing blood from the other, I need to make sure everyone is safe and comforted first. That is my priority. But once that’s done, I can consciously release my judgement of the older brother as a perpetrator abusing his power as the stronger sibling.
Letting Go of Judgements
There’s a wonderful way to do that, to let go of our judgements. It’s a surprisingly simple way to release the story I create about what just happened, and instead engage with my child as a complete being.
Ask a question.
Yes, it’s that simple. Curiosity is the antidote to judgement. When I kneel and look my child in his eyes, when I breathe deeply and pause a moment, a question might float from my heart to the surface of my awareness. And I may ask, ‘You are hitting and yelling and you seem angry–what is it that is making you so angry?’
It is not enough to ask the question from a place of curiosity. We must be willing to hear the answer too. And to remain loyal to our curiosity, our desire to learn and know.
There are, of course, many questions we might ask, and many answers we may receive. Here are three key questions that go a long way towards cultivating your child’s patience.
Question 1: What is happening in my life that makes me impatient?
Yes, this is the place to start. As fathers, our energy is a vital part of our child’s primary environment, her soil and air.
If we’re impatient or stressed, it will affect our child. We may not even notice what we bring to a situation, but it may still affect our child like a bolt of electricity.
There are quite a few studies that show how our impatience affects the way our children act and develop. This is good to know. It reminds us that, as in any relationship, it takes two to tango. This is true not only in our relationship with our spouse or partner, but also with our child.
In all honesty, I feel a slight pressure over my chest and shortness of breath when fall break comes around. The mornings and early afternoons when I do most of my work, will not be available to me for the coming week. And the fact of being aware of this, and learning to plan and accept this, helps me become a better role model for patience.
How I feel and what I emit has a direct impact on my children’s brain. That’s a fairly frightening realization, but if we accept this responsibility, then we’re in for a spiritual ride and healing journey that will enrich our lives to no end. Cultivating our child’s patience begins here.As fathers, our energy is a vital part of our child's primary environment, her soil and air. Click To Tweet
Question 2: What’s happening in my child’s life at the moment that can be overwhelming for her?
Here is an extreme example of tracking a child’s impatience to the bigger picture of her life, but as such it’s clear and unambiguous:
At dinner one evening my youngest boy was being spiteful. At least that’s how I saw it through the fumes of my own impatience. He made faces at me. He took sweets when I asked him not to. He was a bundle of nerves, unable to sit still at the dinner table.
For a moment, I wanted him to stop, but then I saw something was troubling him. I breathed and with each breath I began to recall what I knew about his day. I quickly realized that earlier in the day he had experienced a disturbing moment at kindergarden.
He had asked an older boy on a bicycle to do a wheelie. The boy had willingly and somewhat zealously obliged. He had fallen backwards and received the weight of the bicycle on his leg. It was a freak accident, but severe enough for the pre-school staff to call an ambulance.
We had asked my boy several times afterwards if he was scared, and he had told us he wasn’t, so we let it go. But now, several hours later, his body was telling us something different.
Gradually over the evening, his mother and I were able to talk to him about what had happened. We held him. And eventually, by bedtime, he shared that he felt responsible for the boy having hurt himself. He was afraid he would be blamed. He felt guilty and a bit ashamed.
By taking a step back and considering the day’s events, I could understand my boys behavior better. Together with his mother, I was able to reframe his impatience as confusion and fear. And gradually we were all able to make a little bit more sense of the undercurrents of this ripple in his little life.
When we know the details of our child’s life, and when we approach her with curiosity, we can help orient her to the bigger picture. This is invaluable for our child, helping her develop her emotional intelligence and capacity for self-regulation.
Question 3: What do I know about my child to guide her through this?
According to Education expert Alfie Kohn there are three features that define high-quality parenting.
- an awareness that our child’s experience of the world is often different from our own
- an ability to understand the nature of those differences, to imagine our child’s point of view and tune in to his or her needs
- a willingness to try to meet those needs rather than just doing what’s right for oneself.
The act of acknowledging that our child is living in a world of her own, distinct from ours, frees our capacity for compassionate fathering, and allows our child the space to learn more about patience.
I used to think fishing was a delightful way to connect with my boys and with nature, until I first tried it a few summers ago. Less than a minute after I handed my youngest son his fishing pole, he had wrapped the polyethylene braided fishing line around his arm with the hook enmeshed in his shirt sleeve.
I spent a good deal of time setting him free. And within a minute he was wrapped and enmeshed again.
I felt my anger rise, I imagined the whole morning like this, and I thought to myself that he ought to be more careful and attentive. He was obviously struggling, and his patience was wearing thin. He kept calling on me for help, and he had started to whine that it wasn’t working, that he wasn’t having any fun.
Taking a moment to breathe, I eventually wisened up enough to put my own gear aside. I sat down by his side, and I reminded myself of what I know about him. He’s the youngest, and he’s a daredevil. He’s had his teeth come through his lower lip when jumping from the porch, his nose is scared from when he scraped it on gravel, he rides his bike like evil knievil and once flew a good four meters beyond the handle-bars in a down-hill race.
His love of life trumps his memory of pain.
He’s also only five years old. As the youngest, he tries to be as fast, as clever and as capable as his two year older brother. I’m surprised how well he does, and I’m also aware that it’s sometimes stressful for him to stretch in this way.
Sitting by his side, remembering what I know about him, feeling my heart soften, I asked him a question. “How is it going?”
“Not so good,” he said.
“You’re not supposed to catch yourself, you know.”
He looked at me in silence for a moment then decided I was joking and we had a laugh.
“What would make it easier for you?”
And he described how his fingers couldn’t quite reach the line to release it in time. How the rod was too heavy.
“I see that now,” I said. “What can we do about that?”
And together we figured out he could use a slightly shorter rod. He practiced a different way of holding the line. We tried a slightly smaller lure. I held him as we experimented. And by the end of the morning he was throwing that lure a good ten meters into the sea.
In time he tired. He said he’d had enough, that he wanted to head home. And we did.
Question: What is your greatest challenge when it comes to teaching your child patience? Share your experience and comments below.