A Roadmap for Teaching Children about Patience | SoundVision.com

A Roadmap for Teaching Children about Patience

We live in a world that promotes instant gratification at every turn. Technological advances have made it possible to constantly search and find answers in the blink of an eye, to make an online  purchase with delivery the same day, to find entertainment 24/7 for just about any taste. And these advances create a never-ending-cycle of wanting and expecting everything in a hurry.

Humans don’t enter this world knowing how to be patient. An infant’s primal instincts expect a quick response to their need for food, warmth, and comfort. And they developmentally lack the discipline to wait patiently for many years to come. The speedup of everything around us  makes teaching them how to be patient even more challenging and important for parents.

“It’s a now generation — everything is instant and accessible and kids are used to having everything quickly,” says Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist based in Palm Springs, Calif., and author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine

“Patience is teachable as long as the person teaching it is patient themselves,” Borba says. “You’ll never get instant results. It takes patience and it takes time.”

Some Details about Patience

On a practical level, developing and applying patience is a lifelong challenge for all of us. A typical definition of patience is that it is the ability to stay calm while you're waiting for an outcome that you need or want. According to research by psychologist Dr. Sarah Schnitker, it comes in three main varieties: 

  • interpersonal patience – relating to other people, their demands, their failings (e.g., dealing with different personalities and cultures, sibling rivalries, teachers and students, etc.)
  • life hardship patience – responding to life’s big physical and emotional challenges (e.g., physical illness and loss, long-term goals, financial difficulties, etc.)
  • daily hassles patience – dealing with struggles that are abundant every day (e.g., waiting for a download or in line, getting stuck in traffic, having to clean up after a mess, etc.)

That means in the course of our family lives, we have plenty of opportunities to learn about and to practice patience.

To best understand, however, it is also helpful to understand its opposite. Impatience is generally rooted in frustration when one’s needs and wishes are either unfulfilled or ignored. It can also be exacerbated by physical factors (such as hunger, dehydration or fatigue) and emotional factors that can act to trigger previously challenging experiences and feelings.

A Roadmap for Teaching about Patience

Parents get to exercise patience in real-time when they work to model patience in front of their children and also apply in their interactions with them. And it seems to pay to start teaching about patience early. According to Pamela Cole, a professor of psychology and human development at Penn State, “The years between toddlerhood and kindergarten are critical for developing patience.”

There will be lots of opportunities to contend with children who want what they want instantly, without waiting.  Here are 7 tips for teaching your children how to be patient.

1. Model patience yourself.

Take every opportunity to model what it takes to be patient yourself. When you practice patience speak about it. Next time you are in the grocery line, mention how is it hard to wait but show that you can occupy the time in other ways. Consider playing an “I Spy” or “20 Questions” game, where you pick something and ask the other person to guess what you have selected. Or you can start a project to save money for something special – think a family outing, dinner, vacation, or purchase – and use visuals to routinely monitor progress toward your target goal.

2. Share your own struggles with patience.

Make good use of teachable moments, those moments when the meltdowns are happening. Take a pause to calm things down and then share your own stories about patience – your successes and your failures. Children are fascinated with stories that help them relate to their experiences. The more you share, the more they will be interested in what they can learn from you and from how you have engaged with the world. It will also provide practical examples of how they may handle a similar challenge in the future. When they see you are open to reflection and lifelong learning, that lesson goes a long way!

3. Avoid utilizing electronics to fill in the wait time.

Learning how to patiently wait is about adjusting your attitude about waiting and filling that wait time with a productive alternative. Filling the wait time with the use of electronics, however, may provide a short-term gain to quell a tantrum but it will create a larger problem down the road. Parents must figure out ways to encourage children to utilize their own minds and creativity as a resource, rather than relying on entertainment tools that exacerbate the reliance on instant gratification.

4. Teach about patience from Islamic guidance.

Children need to understand that there are rewards for being patient. They can be practical – for example getting what you want as a reward for patiently waiting. And, as Muslims, we believe that Allah rewards us for our patience. In the Quran, He tells us:

“Surely, Allah is with those who are As‑Saabiroon (the patient).” 

(Surah Al-Anfal, 8:46)

 “Only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full, without reckoning.” 

(Surah Az-Zumar, 39:10)

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, modeled a life of patience and said:

“Whoever persists in being patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience.” 


By developing taqwah or a God-consciouness, our children will learn that there are bigger reasons to value patience than our own comforts, whims or desires.

5. Create opportunities for success.

Patience takes practice and there are many ways to anticipate the things our children need to wait for. Set up opportunities to assist them in the process. Here are a few examples:

  • If you anticipate a wait in the car, bring books to read or audio books to listen to, have travel games (looking for colors or license plates), identifying small treats as rewards for their self-discipline and cooperation.
  • If you anticipate they are struggling to wait for a snack or meal, illicit their help to cook or set the table.
  • If you need to nurse a baby and anticipate your toddler will struggle with the lack of attention, construct a busy box of quiet toys that are only available during that special time. 

6. Make mistakes a part of learning.

Children can be very anxious about making mistakes and that can be a source of their impatience and frustration. But mistakes are great opportunities for learning if they are not relegated to just failure. Talk about what went wrong and how things can be approached differently. Concentrate on allowing your child (no matter the age) to work through the process themselves. And remind them that Allah, As-Saboor, The Most Patience One, allows us countless opportunities to make mistakes and come back to him for patience and forgiveness. 

7. Have fun.

Playing board games, building with blocks, painting and drawing, planting a garden, and putting together puzzles are all activities that can help a child appreciate that the process involved to reach a goall. These are fun opportunities to teach about time and patience in a discreet manner. Here is a nice article Games That Teach Patience filled with lots more examples.

There are many reasons to value patience. If you need to work on that yourself, it is never too late to build new skills and habits. Let’s all work with our children to be more patient together, inshaAllah, God willing. And as inspiration, we will end with the best guidance and inspiration  from Allah Himself:

“By Al-'Asr (the time). 

Verily, man is [deep] in loss, 

except for those who believe and do good deeds, 

urge one another to the truth and urge one another to patience.”

(Surah Al-Asr, 103:1-3) 

Zahirah Lynn Eppard is the managing editor of the Muslim Home parenting newsletter project. As Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education, she has also spearheaded the production of more than 500 online classes serving children ages 3-12 in the Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Clubs. Eppard has also worked in the field of education as a teacher, homeschooler, and Islamic school principal, as a marriage and crisis intervention counselor, and as a lobbyist and social justice activist. She lives with her husband, children, and grandchildren in Maryland.

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