The Hidden Gifts of Patience


Wouldn't it be nice if we all had more patience? Less ‘snap’ and more small-moments-of-waiting before reacting?

Patience and practice go together – it is something that can be grown with active decisions to acquire a little more grace in our day to day lives. Patience is not a simple waiting for something ‘bad’ to stop, it is more than that. It is an acceptance that difficult moments are inevitable and a choice to view them as ultimately strength enhancing. This is why, in the past, children were asked to manage long church services, menial tasks and a good deal of everyday boredom, to create a character that could maintain equilibrium amidst discomfort.

In the past people naturally developed more patience because things were less instant. They had to wait for the seasonal crops, and for sickness to stay a while before it left. They had to endure longer periods of time waiting for consumer goods, for travel and endless other aspects of life which have speeded up. In our 21st century lives getting things done, accomplishing, ‘finishing the list’ is a philosphy of our time – reaching outcomes simply not to fall behind.

Thus families are speedy and outcome focused and our children are watching our ‘stop it now’ approach and believing that eliminatiung obstacles in the way, is the solution. Anger arises with a goal and something stopping that goal and the belief that we can ‘fix’ !! But we cant fix a brother who is noisy and we cant fix a sister who is fussy, and children’s desire to do so often mirrors our own approaches to problems.

If we generate an atmosphere in which any behaviour which is seen to be irritating is labelled ‘so annoying’ and instantly pounced upon in an effort to reduce it…then we are acting from impatience. The language of impatience is ‘stop it’, ‘don't’, ‘quit that’ – and it asks the other person to control themselves so that we don't have to control our rising feelings.

The language of patience can be held in the head or spoken aloud. It identifies the issue and the ways in which ‘self-managing’ can be applied. It says ‘you guys are arguing again, and I am teling myself that children do bicker and that I can bear it’. It suggests resources inside that can be applied to the situation to sooth it. It says ‘we are late and I am feeling myself get cross, but I am going to keep my smile on and remind you with good will, because I know you are not doing this on purpose’.

So patience goes hand in hand with non-blame and with understanding why. This trio does not focus on the ‘what’ but on the reasons why people produce problems for us. It does not swing into ‘wrong’ and demand a return to ‘right’ it works with levels of ability/learning/interest/engagement…..

Impatience is like a mosquito and as soon as we hear the buzzing we start to get alarmed and begin swotting to ‘stop’ the potential settling of the creature. Patience directs itself not to what ‘might’ upset, but to what actually happens and ways to relief the ‘itch’ – it is the soothing gel that reminds the person that suffering is part of living on this planet and is temporary and can be managed with inner strength.

Check out a lovely video by clicking HERE - which advises us that changing our thoughts changes our world – and clearly demonstrates why impatience is counter productive. That in our efforts to make things more serene, we become over-focused on anything that gets in the way of ‘calm’ and lash out, thus reducing inner coping and increasing a dissatisfaction that is a long way from the relaxed state desired.

Like all virtues, talking about patience, modelling it and really actively working with the philosophy of it, makes a difference in the home. I like the idea of random ‘patience points’ that are awarded to children but also parents might identify moments they are choosing patience and gain a point too.

Noticing moments of patience expands its potential for use in more difficult circumstances. Parents who clearly show their children that they can ‘hang on’ in the moments of angst are likely to generate a willingness to wait in their children.

Since the late 1960s the Stanford marshmallow test (in which children are offered one marshmallow now or two when the tester returns to the room after a few minutes wait) has been replicated across age groups and over time. It tests the ability to withstand delayed gratification and this is the single biggest predictor of increased self-coping, self competence and self assurance in later life. Delayed gratification is the ability to manage impulse control. Self control increases will power – leading to increased academic success and psychological health.

So it is worth reducing that ‘snap’ response when things are not right, to gain better relationships. It is worth teaching self regulated waiting to help children develop the persistence needed to manage hard things. Patience is a gift… those few seconds of thought that puts the annoying action into context and adds understanding – that is a true present. Being present to difficulty as well as delight is what creates happier people and happier families.

Wishing you the gift of patience……

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