Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted? Okay, everyone has.
It’s hard. It takes all your internal energy to remain excited but calm, available but not pushy, energetic but not anxious.
It’s especially hard when it is something that you have attached a lot of meaning to – like being asked to marry – you want it SO bad and yet you have to wait, and trust and allow – it’s challenging.
Well for children almost anything they want has this energy. Playing Wii or Xbox, watching their favorite TV show, playing their favorite game or getting a special toy, it all feels this intensely attractive and pressing. As parents and teachers we sometimes miss the intensity of our children’ and students’ experiences.
Teaching patience requires looking for the positives in waiting.
This can be challenging if you go about it in the typical fashion of costs and benefits, especially if you are dealing with a person who doesn’t naturally have a tendency to delay gratification. But if you can be creative and even change your perspective this can shift the energy to identify some beneficial aspects of waiting or delays.
Certainly the better we model it, the more likely we will be able to transmit the gift of patience.
I think some people’s brains are hard-wired for delayed gratification. They have little trouble with waiting and developing patience. These individuals can hang out, re-focus and set aside, that internal nagging feeling of I Want It NOW.
They create a hierarchy of goals. They break up the main issue into smaller more easily attainable goals so that they don’t actually feel like they are waiting – they are just moving along the path.
If you are one of these people, you do not have to continue reading, unless you are raising someone who is the opposite of you, then you should continue.
The people whose brains are hard-wired for impatience, they just can’t let it go. They are like little ever-ready-bunnies moving in circles of thought – I want it now, unable to still their thoughts and beings.
Waiting for this population is excruciating. Even when they make an effort to exert patience they cannot last for very long. Their experience of time is more intense than the individuals who are hard-wired for delayed gratification.
Okay so here are some of the tricks for helping these individuals.
Don’t offer a reward of something they really want, for good behavior. They’ll be unable to hold it together long enough to get the reward, because they get stuck thinking about the reward rather than the action required to get the reward. They want it so bad they can’t think of anything else, so you will get the opposite of what you are trying to create.
These children are better to be rewarded when acting properly rather than offered a carrot.
Building structure for your child, and connecting behavior and outcome, increases a person’s ability for patience, waiting, and delayed gratification. The structure identification helps the child center himself in his world so that the intensity of waiting can be neutralized.
Set up a simple structure make it into a rhyme or into a song they already know so that it can be recalled effortlessly and quickly. This way they can begin to develop an inner structure that is accessible to them. ie: for an elementary school child, put your name and the date on your paper and read the instructions before you begin – in a tempo that is already in their mind.
Say it over and over until it is second nature to think of at the beginning of homework.
If your child has difficulty with overstimulation in stores, wanting everything that strikes his fancy, the best way to avoid trouble is to set up what is expected and what consequences will happen if expectations are not met.
“I know you can be overstimulated by all the toys and fun things in the store. Today we are not buying any new items for you. If you see something you can point it out to me, or write it down for a future shopping trip when we are purchasing toys.” Or you can say “today we are buying one item for you in the store for this amount of money.” Then you can add the above about how to deal with wanting of several things and how to create a structure about this.
Continue with your set up to identify what will happen if your child continues to ask for a toy or more items than you have agreed to purchase – “no toy/item will be purchased if you continue to ask for something or ask for more”. In some cases you may say that you will immediately leave the store if your child cannot control his impulses.
Think about this as to whether this more negatively affects you or your child and do not set this up if it interferes with your needs in the store – ie: you are buying necessary groceries.
After setting up the expectations for behavior and the consequences, ask your child to repeat to you his understanding of these. Then as you go through the store provide positive reinforcement as your child is correctly following the expectations. “I notice how well you are behaving in the store.” “Do you need some paper and a pencil to write down your ideas?” “You are doing a good job.”
Re-direct your child and remind him of the expectations and consequences when he begins to lose focus. Repeat the plan enough times that it becomes something that he can complete on his own when he is re-directed by you.
This will allow him to develop an inner structure, connecting his behavior with the outcome. This results in a sense of empowerment and that has the effect of neutralizing the intensity of wanting and waiting.
Additionally if you have set up that he will get a toy/item at a future visit, try to connect that visit to the previous work by for example bringing the paper with the identified items so that he can choose something from it, or from a new visit.
If you are setting up a set of consequences use this rhyming or song template. ie: I make a request nice the first time, sternly the second time and I get angry and take away a toy the third time.
Say it a number of times without consequence. This gives the child a practice time where no toy is removed but the information is repeated at the second request. After awhile the child knows the third step and can redirect his behavior himself at step two before there is a complete breakdown.
This is teaching him how to see the future, connect his behavior with outcomes, and develop a sense of empowerment because he can avert the consequence. Structure and empowerment together are the key.
Try these simple strategies to help to create structure and support in waiting. Patience and delay gratification will follow.
See you tomorrow.