Many parents experience a whining child or a child throwing a tantrum. These are not pleasant experiences for the parents or for the children. One of the main reasons for these responses to a situation is that children have not learned how to “wait”. Adults do a lot of waiting in doctor’s offices, in line at the grocery store, for the train, or recently for me on jury duty. As an adult, we have many ways to keep occupied while we are waiting. Besides using our ever-present technology, we read books and magazines, knit, play Solitaire, or think. How do we teach children how to occupy themselves in times when they have to wait? If you have read books by Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or Pamela Druckerman’s book on French parenting, Bringing Up Bebe, you will know that some of our American issues are related to lack of affordable child care help and public assistance for new parents. However, the way America handles maternity leave, daycare and public education are topics for another essay and won’t help you when your child is pulling on your clothing to get your attention when you are just trying to finish your coffee before it gets cold. Whew! Children do need to learn expectations, family and home ground rules, and how to be respectful and appropriate. This requires Face-To-Face Interactions with adults to learn how to do and be. For instance if a child is throwing books off of a shelf, this is a perfect time for an adult to demonstrate how to put them back in place – and that activity is fun, too. Instruction has to be firm but with love. Children who are given only love without expectations and limits become the whining, obnoxious little people who embarrass and harass adults. Spending time to teach and practice skills with children when they are young sets the stage for thoughtful, peaceful responses to life's stressful moments.
Children can be taught to have patience and the key is that it takes Parental Time to Teach and for the children, Time To Practice. And children need to understand what it means to “wait”. You have plenty of daily examples, for instance, “when I am talking on the telephone or to someone else” or “when we are at a doctor’s office”, or “when we are waiting for a train”. Parents have to be present in these moments in time to teach the concept of waiting. Parents can give examples of what they do while waiting, hum or sing a song, read or look at magazine, observe your surroundings and play I Spy, count objects, etc. And parents will have to practice these techniques with their children until they can do it alone – the key is that they can do it alone. One of the observations that I and other Montessori educators make is that often adults underestimate the potential of young children. If adults expect children to operate at the top of their intelligence, respect possibilities and plan and allow for more time, many skills are attainable. Some of adult pitfalls to avoid include: nagging, rushing and sarcasm. None of these tactics work with young children. Modeling patience, using reflective listening, timers, teaching coping skills and doing activities that require patience with your child are golden. Cooking together is a perfect example of an activity that requires being organized, following directions and waiting. Try baking a cake together!