Expert Tips for Teaching Toddlers Patience


Christine Hierlmaier Nelson, a communications expert, national parenting columnist and mother of two, was kind enough to share her beliefs and knowledge about teaching patience to toddlers with LovetoKnowBaby. She is also the author of Green Yellow Go! Nat Knows Bananas, a pre-K book that teaches patience. Christine believes that teaching young children patience is the single biggest thing you can do to affect their success in school, their sense of responsibility and outlook on life. But before parents can teach it, they have to live it.

Christine is earning national recognition for her insights on delayed gratification - and the fallout from our impatient society. After publishing a pre-K children's book about patience, Green Yellow Go! Nat Knows Bananas, she realized that microwaves and ATMs and instant messaging were a small part of a systematic breakdown in our ability to handle discomfort and frustration…and our children have been watching.

Sharing humor, personal experience and studies on delayed gratification - the famous marshmallow tests of Dr. Walter Mischel to Harvard and Sackler Institute research - Christine focuses on how to develop intelligent children, strengthen relationships and find more joy in our lives - by waiting.

Christine has been featured in Redbook, Woman's World and Parents magazines on parenting topics for young children. Her children's book and presentations to early childhood and parenting groups get to the heart of a key ingredient to parenting that is often glossed over. Parents are frequently encouraged to be patient, but not given the tools to practice and model this virtue, she says.

How Do You Feel About Building a Child's Self-Esteem?

It's not enough to build a child's self-esteem, as the latest parenting credo suggests. Many criminals have high self-esteem and end up committing crimes because reality doesn't match what they believe they deserve in life. Patient children learn that the rewards in life take time and effort. Instant toys and money for no effort lose their glitter. They learn that setting goals is a good way to work toward the things they want. They learn to be responsible for their choices.

Our culture tells us that we can have anything we want now with no credit, no money down, and no commitment. Whether we are talking about a car or a relationship, our children have watched us consume these things and throw them away once we're bored or inconvenienced. I believe that anything worthwhile takes time - a redwood tree, a marriage, a successful business, a thriving country. That's what our children need to learn to survive and thrive in the world today.

What Does Patience Mean To You?

Patience has three components: empathy, mindfulness, and self-leadership.

Patience requires us to understand that our needs are just as important - but not more important - than the guy ahead of us in line. That's empathy. If we can stay in the moment while in that line - mindfulness - we will become less frustrated. We won't be thinking of all the things we have to do once we get out of that line. We'll be more thankful for the break in the action.

Finally, patience requires self-leadership. We get up each morning with a sense of service to others. We take responsibility for our needs - enough rest, exercise, good food, a place to live - so we can fulfill our ultimate purpose of serving other people.

How Can Being Patient Help Us Become Better Parents?

Of all the virtues, patience is the biggest. This becomes abundantly clear if you are a parent or if you manage a group of people. You can't control their thoughts, feelings, or actions. But patience can help YOU think clearly, develop solutions, and resolve conflict. Imagine the things we and our children could accomplish in the world if we resolved to learn patience. You're not born with it. It must be learned. Parents are on the front lines, so to speak, of creating a new generation of patient, responsible, peace-making leaders.

How Can Parents Model Patience?

  • Become aware of your knee-jerk stress coping mechanisms. Do you yell? Hide? Throw things? Once you are aware that things are getting out of hand and you feel the urge to fall back on these old coping mechanisms, stop and breathe. Explain to your loved one or children that you need a moment to collect yourself or a time-out. Go to a quiet place and come back when you can control your remarks and actions.
  • When you are standing in a line with your children and they are fussy or squirrelly - ask them to look for shapes or colors in the room, pick a song to sing, count to ten or 100, then count backwards.
  • If your child is having a tantrum, first think about whether he might be tired, hungry or over-stimulated. Keeping that in mind, bend down to his level, hold him, give him a kiss and speak quietly to him. Avoid getting visibly emotional or raising your voice. If you are in a public place, you may need to leave with your child to a quiet location until he calms down.
  • Before you are stuck in traffic again, dealing with an unruly pet, or resolving a conflict with your partner, imagine your child watching every action and emotion cross your face and hearing every word. Then imagine your child modeling this behavior (using those words!), in the classroom or at a friend's house. Is this the person you want to send out into the world?
  • Finally, give yourself a break. Parents are human. They face a lot of pressure from themselves first, then family and friends, then work and society. It's no surprise we end up blowing up at the ones we love most. Find ways to wind down, get to bed early at least one night a week, schedule date nights with your partner, make Sunday family day again.

More Information on Christine Hierlmaier Nelson

To learn more about Christine, purchase her book and get tips and tools to model patience, visit her website Patient Parents.

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Expert Tips for Teaching Toddlers Patience