If you’re a parent or childcare worker, it’s likely you’ll come across times when you can’t seem to hold it together. Young children do the same, so-called, ‘annoying’ things on repeat. It can feel like the madness never ends, and that you never get a break. Sometimes, it can even seem like their defiance or ambivalence to your instructions are intentional (gasp!). If a ‘bad’ reaction comes out of you, it’s common to feel guilty about it afterwards. And then we all wonder: how can we be more patient with toddlers and preschool-age children?
In this article, we’ll try to explain tips for keeping calm, and staying positive in those ‘daily life’ moments that seem to induce our ugly stress responses.
1) Learn to see and respect children as ‘little adults,’ with you as their guide
Being that toddlers and preschoolers are smaller than us ‘grown ups’, and certainly know less than we do, it’s easy to think we’re the ones who are always ‘right.’ Whatever we say goes. Our schedule takes precedence over theirs. Our logic works better than theirs. We win all arguments.
Well, even if that’s true, you may have a hard time convincing the ‘subjects’ of your ‘kingdom’’ to believe it.
The thing is, children have needs too – even toddlers and preschoolers. They need control, independence and security and all the ‘good’ feelings just as much as we do. But as adults, we often take that away from them, thinking they are not worthy of it. We may not know we’re doing it, though.
Please understand our meaning: we are not saying that children don’t need discipline and guidance. We’re not advocating for anarchy and neglect (in fact, that can do more harm than good to your relationship with children).
But we will say that children deserve age-appropriate respect for their needs. For example:
A 3 or 4 year old may be ‘in the zone’ while playing with a toy or climbing a playground. They are in ‘thrill’ mode. They are figuring something out. They are problem-solving. They are loving it.
Then a parent or caregiver comes along and says, “times up! Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and let’s go. NOW!”
No explanation is given. In their mind, there is no reason for this demand, other than the fact that you said it.
That’s when you get tantrums, complaining and defiance. You know why? Because their independence, control and security has been stolen from them. They want to show you that THEY choose what they want to do, and when they want to do it.
A few minutes of that, and you’ll probably lose your patience. You’ll think: ‘why do they never listen?!’ or ‘how is this so hard for them?’ or, ‘they know better!’ or ‘I give them so much, why are they acting ungrateful?’
Now, yes, they do need to listen. They can’t have their way 100% of the time. And in all of the above thoughts, you may have the satisfaction of being the ‘right’ and ‘logical’ one.
But if you want to get them to do what you need them to do, while being agreeable, try an approach like this one:
“Honey, can you come here for a second? I have to tell you something.” Then you get down to their level, hold them with love and look them in the eye. “We have to go soon, ok? So in 5 minutes, we will need to put on our shoes and jacket. Then we can come back and play later, ok? Should I set the timer for us?”
Do you see the difference?
With this latter approach, you are communicating to them that you respect what they are doing, you know they are enjoying what they’re doing, and you will make time for that later. You are validating their needs. But they need to ‘meet you half-way,’ so-to-speak.
This approach also gives children the chance to ‘switch mental gears,’ so they can start getting used to the idea that a routine change is coming. The ‘5 minute wrapper’ gives them security – they understand their freedom has boundaries.
So, just like you would respect an adult’s time and needs, think of children as ‘little adults’ in waiting. Respect their need for attention and self-worthiness. But remain authoritative, in kindness. Do this for a while, and see if their ‘testing’ behaviour gets any better.
This type of response can also be considered modelling patience for your children. See more in this HuffPost article.
What if they still rebel? Well, that can happen. But in this article we won’t be getting into discipline. Another article on our site may help:
What is a balanced parenting style for toddlers and preschool-aged children? Here are 3 answers.
See also on our blog:
- 3 Key tips to understand and solve temper tantrums in toddlers and young children
- How to teach impulse control in early childhood
- How to teach preschoolers to be grateful, thankful and glad for what they have in 3 simple steps
2) Make time for your own needs, so you have emotional energy to be patient with toddlers and preschoolers
This article on EmpoweringParents.com explains that, as adults being impatient with children, we need to identify our triggers. We then need to come up with a clear plan to address those triggers before, during and after the moments of outburst.
A very important point is made: the need for self-care. Now, you may be thinking, “how can I have time for that? It’s impossible!” And the article linked-to above addresses that type of answer. It’s called “all or nothing thinking.” Don’t do that. It’s not impossible.
Yes, it may take some adjusting, trying new things, and maybe sacrifices in other areas of your life. But even if you can only manage a little bit of reasonable self-care, you need it. Don’t devalue it.
You need sleep, for instance. So maybe giving up a bit of TV time can help you feel rested, so you have more mental, emotional and physical energy during the day to be around toddlers and preschoolers.
You may need more time for things that are pleasurable to you. Be it a yoga class, time with friends or painting, etc. Somehow, a path for those things needs to be carved out. Ask a spouse to help, a friend to baby-sit or if you can, pay for childcare.
If you are taking on too much, it may also be time for some self-reflection. For example, can you really handle a full-time job, full-time parenting and volunteer work? Something may have to give. Don’t let guilt override you. It’s ok to not be everything to everyone.
If you are under stressful situations in your life that seem to ‘never’ go away, these stresses will pass on to your children if they persist. A tense environment is something they can ‘feel,’ even if you are not losing your patience with them (though, chances are you will). If you need help being able to take steps towards changing your living situation, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Whether by seeking community resources, telling friends or getting legal help, it may be time to take steps towards healing.
See related on our blog:
- 3 things to know before starting a career as a childcare worker in Metro Vancouver, B.C.
- What is a parenting coach and do I need one?
- Free parenting classes and learning resources for Vancouver-area residents
- What are government resources for early childhood care in B.C.? Starting in 2018, things have changed for the better
- Types of daycare in B.C. explained (plus legal vs licensed child care definitions)
3) To be patient with children, ask yourself: “what’s the worst that could happen?”
And finally, this may sound cliche, but learn to take it easy. Not everything is going to go swimmingly in life. Children are practicing everything about being human; they will spill drinks. They will get dirty. They will fall down. And they will scream, wet their pants and maybe destroy your furniture, too.
But while you’re out in the rain, and your kid slips on mud after you told them not to run, ask yourself: “what’s the worst that can happen?” Honestly? Why is this a big deal? What now? You will have tears to wipe, some laundry to do and an early bath time that day. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, this can even be seen as a funny memory to look back on.
Save your ‘big’ reactions for the occurrences that deserve them. There are times when discipline is needed. But if you overreact to every little thing, a child may not see the seriousness of the ‘big’ things they do.
Remember, they’re not following your logic. You’re smarter than they are. But they are smart, too. They are four-year-old smart. They are doing exactly what they should be doing for their age. They are exploring, playing and testing boundaries. That means drawing on walls, and knocking over vases. It means splashing bath water all over the floor. It means refusing to put on shoes. It means interrupting your business call to show you their broccoli forest. That’s their job.
But, what’s the worst that could happen, really, in all of those above scenarios? You’ll buy a new lamp? You’ll apologize to your client and move to a quieter room? They’ll go outside barefoot and learn why shoes are necessary? You’ll buy $5 paint and fix your wall? And yes, you may pay $12K to fix the bathroom floor… but that will be a distant memory soon!
To conclude: being patient with toddlers and preschoolers is about self-awareness and perspective
As we’ve seen above, being patient with a toddler or preschooler can be achieved. It takes a little bit of work to understand what is actually happening in the minds of children, and in our own minds. It can involve taking a new approach to daily-life situations, so that children are more accommodated. It can mean avoiding triggers by taking care of your own needs. And in the end, it can boil down to the realization that ‘life happens,’ and we all get through it.