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Preparing Teens for the 21st Century Work Place: Patience

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

Your kids will be growing to adulthood in a century where the complexity of technology and the pace of change is unlike anything humans have ever experienced.  This is one in a series of columns devoted to identifying core competencies that will help teens be successful in this 21st century workplace.  With the pervasive emphasis on speed, immediate results and instant gratification, your kids have been trained to expect things to happen NOW.  Only the rare few can (like Oprah or Bill Gates) actually get what they want when they want it.  Your kid’s success in the 21st century will be greatly enhanced by their ability to bide their time, manage frustration, accommodate to a coworker’s agendas, temper responses and exert self-control.  Patience is a quality that will distinguish your kid from their colleagues in any work environment.

Direct instruction.  Talk to your kids about the importance of patience.  Tell them what you are going to do to help them with this (see below).  Identify instances you have noticed in which they have been patient.  Highlight the value of patience by using words like patient, wait, in time, it will come, time will tell, give it time, some things take time.  Help them learn what it takes to be patient.  Talk about why patience is important for them in adulthood, especially at work and in long term, committed relationships.

Model it.  Your kids are not the only ones whose expectations have been shaped by our rapid fire society.  How you respond to delays, slower moving older folks, interruptions in cable signals, fellow motorists and your own family provides direct information about the importance of and what is required for patience.  So, demonstrate some patience in your day to day life.

Making them wait.  Patience is about waiting.  So, make sure there are situations that require your kid to wait.  This may seem kind of strange.  It’s like saying “try to frustrate your kid on purpose.”  While part of me enjoys that concept, I don’t recommend making kids suffer just for fun.  It’s just that with all the distractions (e.g., mobile phones, hand held video games, video systems in the car, portable music devices, etc.), your kid may get very little practice waiting patiently.  Anything that makes them wait will improve their ability to tolerate frustration and lack of movement toward a goal THEY think is important.

Reasonable expectations.  Another important skill that promotes patience is having realistic expectations.  When you expect things to happen NOW, it is perfectly reasonable to get angry and demanding when things take time.  Patience to a kid these days is waiting a couple of minutes (“Hurry UP!”).  Help your kid develop more reasonable expectations for how long they should wait for things in their life.

Bless their hearts.  How kids talk to themselves will influence their ability to wait patiently.  Impatient kids need help developing more benign and compassionate explanations for delays and interruptions.  If your kid shows signs of being impatiently critical, require them to generate at least 2 alternative explanations for delays and interferences.  “Bless their heart, they must be all confused.”  “They must have some very important meeting to cut us off like that.”  “If I pray really hard maybe God will not punish them in the everlasting fires of hell for taking that parking spot.”  (Well, maybe not the last one.)

Consideration for others.  Generosity and sharing are great antidotes to impatience.  Sacrificing your own time, allowing someone with fewer groceries go in front of you at the checkout line; these are ways to indirectly practice patience (as well as being a decent human being).

Self control.  Patience also requires the development of self-control.  There are many strategies for developing self control that you can teach your kid.  Patience also requires greater frustration tolerance and anger management.   (Specifics on how to help your kid develop these qualities can be found in the relevant chapters in my book Raising Teens in the 21st Century).

Smelling roses.  If your kid is able to recognize and appreciate the small, sweet moments along the way, patience will follow.  Sometimes, this ability is talked about as savoring.  You can help them develop patience by learning to savor the moment.  (You can find some suggestions in my book Parenting Teens in the 21st Century).

Wait your turn.  Manners are all about patience.  Waiting your turn, allowing others to go first, the (exasperating) routine of formal social greetings, waiting for everyone to be served before eating; these are all graces that not only make your kid seem cultured and civilized but also teach them patience.

Structured patience.  You can also teach your child patience by requiring them to attend events that are not inherently enjoyable (or easily tolerable).  Having them go to big church, sit around with older relatives when they talk about boring stuff, attend siblings recitals or sporting events are situations that require patience.

Family Meditation.  Consider practicing meditation as a family.  Sitting calm, composed, and relaxed, breathing with a slow, deep rhythm; this can drive most teen crazy with impatience.  To master it, they have to develop patience.  And, meditation has a whole host of benefits for everyone that far exceeds the value as a practice in patience.

Prayer.  Children need to pause and reflect on the grace and gifts available to them.  It is important for their spiritual development.  These moments of prayer or silent reflection often come at just the point where they want to dive right in; before a meal, at the beginning of ceremonies, at bedtime.  And, if you make sure the prayer or statement of thanksgiving is good and long?  All the better!  They have to take it (otherwise they would go straight to HELL!).

Pause that refreshes.  Have your kids take a moment to compose themselves right before they launch (leave for a party or school, get in the car to go somewhere, departing for some exciting event, etc.).  It provides a time to reflect on how to make the best of what awaits them.  It gives you a chance to review rules and expectations.  It also requires them to stop the flow brought on by excitement (i.e., they have to have some patience).

Take the bus.  At least one day (a year?), take a bus to get to some activity with your kids.  Go downtown to walk around or to a museum or the Nashville Public Library.  If there isn’t a bus stop nearby, drive to one and then take the bus.  Patience is required (as well as gratitude for having a family vehicle and appreciation for the plight of less fortunate people who have to arrange their days around bus schedules).

Sunday in the park.  There is more to the concept of a day of rest than just a religious tradition.  It is a time to step out of the hectic, ongoing flow of daily chores and obligations.  It provides a time for reflection, perspective taking, and, of course, religious observance.  Schedule in some time for the family to go to the park, take a long walk, even a drive in the country.  When you leave the house (and electronics) behind, your kids will be required to be patient.  Let your kids know how long y’all will be out and about.  The more they gripe, the more time you will add to it.

Long term patience.  One more idea?  Assign a task that requires long term patience.  Grow plants from seeds.  Put a very complicated jigsaw puzzle together.  Make them have to save a significant amount of money toward purchasing a high ticket item (e.g., video game system, dirt bike, automobile).    Wrap birthday presents (or holiday presents) a month ahead and set them out.  (If they are opened, the presents go back.)  (This concept is also addressed in the future 21st century skill column Project Management.)

As needed.  If you have a kid who already demonstrates the capacity for patience there is no need to put them through all this.  The objective isn’t to try to drive your kid crazy (despite the potential value to people in my profession).  Remember to start small and build.  Watch for the signs of your kid becoming frustrated and try to stop right before they lose it.  Then require a little more patience next time.  Having several different ways to address patience will help.


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