Dear Big Sister:
I’ve been wondering about how and when to teach kids patience and is there such a thing as too early? My guy is almost 11 months and has become pretty used to getting his needs met right away. Lately I’ve been thinking that it would be in his (and my) best interest to start to delay gratifying him by at least a few minutes so that he can learn to tolerate frustration. Am I right in thinking this will be effective at building patience, or is it too young to make a difference?
– Lisa, mom of one
When can one develop patience? It is hard to say, especially before the age of four years old. Does that mean you do not delay gratification? I think babies look to us to meet their needs and it builds a strong bond when they know ‘you have their back’. You feed them; look out for them; hug them when sad; respond to them in conversation and you respect their beings. Must you do this all at the speed of light and at the risk of you feeling spent and subservient? No. I think that the natural order of things (when parents are busy and there are a few kids in the family) is that babies and toddlers learn that they are well cared for, but that there are others in the world. They can also start to do things for themselves (age appropriate, such as crawl or get a toy). In my opinion, when we are too in tune with our babies, we risk not allowing our kids the chance to explore, learn to move, get creative and maybe, to be patient.
This is easy to see with a working mom who wants to cherish and give everything to her first baby in the one year of maternity time she has. She may then hire a nanny who will care and love her child while the parents need to work. This situation may lead to a baby who is loved, but who becomes very used to all needs being met instantly and with no delay. I have witnessed homes where the full-time nanny is on the floor with the baby who is sitting like King Tut pointing to toys to be passed to them. Get off your butt baby! I am joking, of course, but I do think it’s a good thing for a baby to figure out how to crawl over and get the toy and then explore on their own how the toy works. This is just one example, but you can see how always being there to serve your kids can build a theme of over-dependence.
As for food and other basic needs, delaying things a bit just helps the child learn that they are okay and that at times, their needs are not all encompassing. Waiting is good. Does it develop patience? That is where my expertise is challenged, I do not know, but I think it helps build the foundation for a child who is confident, well adjusted and later in life to feel maybe a little less entitled and more inclined to take on some responsibility.