When talking with parents and teachers about dealing with challenging childhood behaviors, I often hear, “I just need more patience.” It’s true. Patience and perspective go a long way in offering positive and effective guidance. But it’s not something we can merely wish upon ourselves.
I’ve written before about the role understanding development and appropriate expectations plays in building up our patience. I think this perspective has a huge impact on creating a patient response.
But I’ve been realizing the importance of another patience factor recently. Ourselves.
We’ve all had those days (myself so very included) when we just don’t feel we have anything left to give. We know logically that our child’s whining, or bickering, or finger-painting all over the bathroom cabinets is all appropriate for their ages and development. But we still feel a fiery churning inside that tends to lead to clenched jaws, exasperated sighs, and –on those really rough days — a mini crying session behind a quickly closed door.
There are times when we feel it’s impossible to have patience. And often it’s because we’ve neglected to take care of ourselves — the source of our patience. It’s something I’ve learned from my own experience. When I run myself ragged, trying to do it all, I suddenly find that I am less and less capable of doing anything well. And patience seems to be the first to go.
So here are some ideas. A few things I feel keep my patience reserves well-stocked:
Sleep. As much as we try to fight against it, our bodies need sleep. We can try to tough it out and make the sacrifice, but eventually we pay the price. Sleep deprivation has been used throughout history as a method of torture (as any parent of a sleep-scattered infant will attest). It’s been used by world powers to weaken and break people down. So if you want to guide children from a place of strength, it makes sense that guarding your sleep would play a factor.
That’s not always easy when you’re “on-call” every night. Try to make it a priority. Give yourself permission now and then to leave some things undone and hit the sack, to sleep in a bit when you can, and to take a nap when you need it.
Eat Real Food. In the middle of a taxing, busy day it is far too tempting to grab a cookie and call it breakfast, nibble at the uneaten half of your child’s PB&J for lunch, and grab dinner on the run. If food is our body’s fuel, we can’t expect to get through a marathon day running on empty.
Plan ahead for quick, easy, and nutritious meals. I’ve found I’m much more likely to get a good breakfast in if I keep several ziplock baggies in my pantry already prepared with individual servings of oatmeal premixed with Craisins, chopped almonds, and ground flax seed. All I have to do on a busy morning is pour it into a bowl of hot water and it’s ready to eat before I can pack my son’s lunch. Stock your fridge and pantry with fruits and veggies, healthy lunch options, and nutritious snacks that are ready to eat. When you plan ahead, you’re much more likely to make healthy choices.
Sweat. Exercise is not just good for your body, but for your mind and soul as well. Triggering the release of endorphins, exercise is one of the best natural anti-depressants and mood enhancers you can find. Whether it’s a heart-pounding run or a smooth round of yoga, getting a workout in is great for releasing stress and clearing your mind.
Find Your Center. Speaking of clearing your mind, find some time in your day to step away from all the chatter and focus on things that really matter. This might come in the form of meditation, scripture study, prayer, or just a few cleansing breaths. Whatever your method, make some time for quiet reflection and an opportunity to shift your focus to a grander scale.
Organize. There’s a saying that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. There’s a fair bit of truth to that. Taking some time to plan your days, create systems, and prepare in advance can save you so much time and take a lot of stress out of your day.
Keep it Real. At the same time, make sure your expectations are realistic and that your efforts to organize aren’t inadvertantly contributing more stress. I became particularly aware of this as I read my friend Steph’s hilarious post on how she organized everything in her life. I read her list first with admiration but soon with disbelief. “There’s no way one person could pull all this off in just a few months,” I thought to myself. Then it hit me. That was the same list of things I was trying to accomplish but was getting frustrated with myself for not pulling it off. Do your best, of course, but keep it real. Be nice to yourself.
Learn to Say No. Sometimes you just have to learn to say no. As much as you’d love to help out/ meet up/ take over, there are limits to what one human can do. As a people pleaser, sometimes it helps to remind yourself that no matter how altruistic your motivation is, you won’t be much good to anyone if you’re trying to do too much. “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” Practice some polite ways to say no so that you’re comfortable enough to use them when the time comes. (“I’d love to, but I just have too much going on right now.” “That sounds wonderful, but I’m not available then.” “Is there another way I can help out?” “Please let me know the next time it comes up.”)
Learn to Say Yes. Just as it’s important to know when to say no, you also have to learn to say yes. We all need help now and then. If someone asks if you need a hand, it isn’t a sign of weakness to say yes. I’ll confess that I’ve had many, many times when someone has offered to help me out and I automatically answer that it’s all good. I’ve got it. Almost every time, I’m mentally chasing after the words as soon as they leave my lips. Stop being polite and start being honest. It’s OK to ask for a little break, for an extra hand, or for a listening ear. We aren’t meant to do it all on our own. We need to lean on each other.
So if you’re looking for a little more patience, start out by taking care of yourself. Do it for the kids.
What behaviors do you notice have an effect on your patience levels?