I have pretty high expectations of my kids and I know it. You and I can analyze where that came from, and whether I am always right each time, but I’ve settled into it until I have some compelling reason not to have high expectations. (High is my goal, not unrealistic. I recognize there’s a balance between expecting much from them and not overwhelming their senses toward shame and/or perfectionism.)
Maintain high expectations, but hold them lowly. I have had plenty of comments over the years suggesting that I am patient (by non-family members). Honestly, this confounds me. (And I am not exaggerating.) My children know that when I expect them to follow through with something, I expect it the first time I ask and not long after I’ve asked. Still, my goal is to hold those high expectations, but hold them lowly, so that I am not losing my mind.
Homeschooling enables a lot of patience practice. In all sorts of ways. I’ve had lots of practice to not be scoldy (still learning that) and to not yell (still learning that too, though a lot less of a challenge most of the time). When non-homeschoolers comment “I couldn’t possibly homeschool”, I sometimes say, “Yeah, me neither.” (And I’m not joking, because some days I am not doing it like I want to.)
Patience is the ability to slowly respond, with intention, when under the presence of challenging behaviours.
Here’s what I’ve learned about practicing patience:
Recognize your triggers. I am typically quick to be annoyed when one child treats another with unkindness. (Which tells you that I have had many years to practice.) Disrespect of all sorts triggers me.
To identify our struggles in understanding others, we need to identify our unique triggers and preconceptions. Understanding why we think as we do, we need to analyze what internal conversations are in our heads.
Understand myself. Personality profiling, like the Meyers Briggs and the Enneagram, has helped me understand much about my kids’ strengths and challenges, how they’re internally motivated, and how to encourage them toward greater relationship skills.
It’s helped me learn mine too. When I identify what energizes me and what drains me, it makes me more effective, more connectable, and more content. When I understand myself, understand my natural strengths, my natural challenges, I relate increasingly smoothly.
Understand my kids. I have had to learn that my kids don’t always process or work as quickly as I do when given a list of to-do’s. They don’t always learn math concepts as quickly as I explain them. Some of them can keep fewer things in their head when given directions.
Observe your kids, learn the dynamics that are at play when you’re not in the room, when they’re with new people, friends or other family members. Learn what they need. Learn who has strong traits in different areas and watch how they help each other or not help each other (which seems more obvious to identify.)
Observe your family members objectively. Look at your family members through a grid of objectivity. They are not different from you because they’re trying to make your life difficult; they are just different. They are not trying to challenge you in the ways you do things; they just do things differently. (I am totally talking to myself here.)
Try to understand the specific scenario. Get curious about the scenario. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions (TOTALLY talking to myself here). Patience is choosing the best response to a situation with understanding.
Understanding someone is the goal of relationship. Understanding forges connection. Understanding takes a long time.
This is one of the basic building blocks to a healthy relationship with tour kids. But, man, can it be challenging. Since we only see others through the grid of our understanding, learning to see others through their own eyes can be so difficult.
Patience sounds like a demanding word that requires our full physical strength and emotional attention. Except it is just this: when understanding is built, patience arrives.
Impatient feelings arise. What to do?
- Don’t judge your impatience. Be kind to yourself. You’ve learned a ton as a parent. You’re learning today. You’ll always be learning. Let me know when you’ve reached god-sized patience. Remind yourself: we are ALL learning.
- Practice presence. Mindfulness is the new mantra because it helps us identify what’s happening in our interior world so we can respond to our exterior world. Spend daily moments listening to yourself. When we practice presence, sit, focus on our breath, we find a profound therapy. Definitely the cheapest therapy. Possibly the hokiest. If you haven’t tried your vegetables, though, how do you know whether you like them or not? So try your mindfulness vegetables.
- Acknowledge your feelings and identify why your feelings are present. For reasons that still confound me, the mere act of acknowledging feelings often dissipates their intensity. Once we come to accept that we feel things, comfortable and uncomfortable feelings, triggered by things that we may or may not want to be triggered by, we can allow them to rise to the surface, accept them in all their struggle, their beauty, their honesty.
- Observe yourself. Why do you feel what you feel? Why does it get under your skin that your kiddo won’t grasp that math concept? Sometimes it is purely because we need to learn about learning, how kids process concepts, but sometimes our expectations might be unrealistic, or perhaps we assume the worst and futurize: “She won’t sit down and apply herself; she’ll never learn.” Or you want to make sure that when grandma asks about math, your child sounds like she’s at the same level as her same-aged peers. Oh so many possibilities why something affects us.
- Observe your reaction. Identify what you might say. How do you want to respond to that? If you have ever had a moment you have said, or at least have thought, “I’ve told you a thousand times,” then it’s 998 times past the point that you could have visualized that scenario, recreated that scenario and planned another way of responding to it.
- Recognize feelings as transient. Your feelings and thoughts pass through like weather systems. They come, they go, sometimes they’re predictable, sometimes they’re not, but an emotional climate always exists. The emotional climate of our souls is never ‘non-existent’.
- Proactive prevention. Anticipate the impatient moments. You’re trying to work on a project, like finishing the kids’ scrapbook, or embroidering a pillowcase, or writing a book. You need your full mental attention for your activity. Interruptions blow your creative energy. Plus, you’ve been with your kiddo all morning. But you homeschool. You have children. Because you’re right there, they’ll interrupt. Unless you have taught them not to. Teach boundaries. (and expect to do it regularly).
- Diffuse tension. Expect that there are many moments that you hadn’t been proactively planning. Life is like that. Much to learn. No end to learning. Regularly diffuse your tension with short bursts of robust activity, like a walk around the block, ten minutes on the elliptical or dance breaks at lunchtime, jumping on the treadmill, running the dog up and down the driveway a few times. Find something you like to do and get moving. Those endorphins are your patience facilitators.
- Breathe, breathe and breathe again. I know you don’t need to be told to breathe. If you’re alive, you’re doing it, without intention. Slow, deep breaths that slow your respiratory and cardiac systems, which slow your fight or flight reactions, which release endorphins, even relieving aches and pains.
- Teach your kids mindfulness. During morning circle time, practice patience building exercises. Lovingkindness meditations, quiet prolonged prayers of goodness towards others, deep breathing exercises. No overnight miraculous transition from sibling rivalry to Buddhist yogic retreat found in a daily mindfulness practice though. Just life-long patience boosting practices that will facilitate greater internal skill for them for a lifetime.
- Interrupt your internal narrative. When you feel impatient, stop, take a deep breath, ask yourself what is getting to you right now? Reframe the internal narrative. What is the story that you’re telling yourself that has you riled up? Is the story true? Are you 100% certain that it’s true? Could there be a different perspective? If it isn’t true, if there could be another explanation for their behaviour, perhaps you could approach it from a different perspective and get a different reaction or response.
- Brainstorm five possible outcomes. What possible ways COULD you respond? One of them might rise as the best choice. Your opinion of that choice might change over time. But right now, what is the best choice?
- Use your ‘best self’ patience practices. Practicing patience on my best days, conjuring my best self, I stop mid-sentence, walk to my room, lay on my yoga mat and practice deep breathing exercises, walk up and down the driveway, or sit with a soothing guided meditation and then come back to the challenging scenario with intention, instead of reaction.
- Act from your best self. Do the thing you know is the best thing to do. (Not necessarily the thing you feel like doing.) Do that thing from your best person, from the best you.
Caveat: If you’re not patient this time, or you didn’t choose the best approach this time, don’t worry about it, you’ll get tomorrow to try again (or possibly five minutes from now).