Is It Your Fault Your Kid Is Impatient?

Ashley Trexler

“Just wait!”

“Not right now.”

“In a minute.”

“Be patient, please.”

“Wait your turn.”

Why can’t our kids just wait?!

I strive for patience–as much as any impatient person can. I let the lighter shopping cart skip ahead in line, hold doors for slow-approaching folks, wait in silence for the busy (or slow) customer service rep, and understand when a waitress is slammed.

Our only-child household practices delayed gratification, or so I thought, until my toddler daughter’s Cirque du Soleil debut.

The “Mini-Cirque” tumbling class, offer by a local gymnastic company, sounded like the perfect outlet for her enviable abundance of energy. Guiding my only child into line, I assumed she would, well, wait in line, as patiently as can be expected of a toddler.

Never assume. Turns out, she didn’t know what a line was, let alone what what “wait in line” meant. She made a beeline for the front of the line, and I brought her back, telling her to wait patiently for our turn.

She took off again. I brought her back, again.

The third time was not a charm. The tantrum she threw was epic, and none of my parenting techniques (gentle or stern) had an effect. Nothing worked. She didn’t understand what “waiting in line” meant.

The car(seat) beckoned, but there was no benefit to leaving. A toddler can’t reason, has little to no self-control, and the issue at hand was how to wait in line – not fatigue or another emotion. Removing her wasn’t the solution.

I held my ground, held her thrashing body in line, and waited for our turn. The instructor took her hand, the tears vanished, and she tumbled her way through the course, all smiles.

Back in line, it started all over again. We endured the full hour, going back and forth between tantrums and smiles. Her waiting skills had improved, but I was exhausted, irritated, and upset by my daughter’s lack of patience.

What was I doing wrong? We don’t eat dessert before dinner, or cave in to every demand. She’s an only child, but we have a structured lifestyle. Her Montessori school wasn’t to blame; they consistently encourage children to “let your friend finish first,” and practice calm, respectful interactions.

The word “friend” was what lit the light bulb over my head.

All this time, we hadn’t been teaching patience – we’d been teaching politeness.

As an only child, our home rarely–okay, never–has anyone else demanding to go first. Our daughter seats herself at the dinner table, and receives the first meal setting. (Yes, she says please and thank you. We’re not raising a gremlin.)

Our home environment encourages self-directed learning. We promote independence and self-sufficiency. We try not to accept interruptions when someone is speaking, and acknowledge acts of assistance, kindness, and compassion.

But, all of those things are polite, not patient. There are no long lines, no siblings screaming, “Me first!”, and nothing in our single-child household that requires any extended practice of patience.

As former DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids), we were used to instant gratification (remember those last minute Sunday brunches and extended happy hours?!). There’s no way we would have waited 15 minutes for two marshmallows.

Have you heard of the Marshmallow Test? Conducted back in the 1960s and 70s, by Stanford University professor Walter Mischel, the test offered young children a choice – eat a treat placed in front of them, or wait and receive two treats.

Only about one-third of the children were able to fully delay gratification. The majority managed to wait a bit, but caved before the time was up. A few couldn’t wait at all, and ate the treat immediately.

Almost 20 years later, researchers tracked down the original participants and interviewed both them, and their parents, to see how they had fared in life.Those who delayed gratification during the Marshmallow Test were viewed as more competent, and having “better life outcomes” – including higher levels of education, healthier bodies (lower BMI), and better standardized test scores.

Turns out, teaching patience to kids is vital to their quality of life as adults.

Looking back, we never promoted delayed gratification (aka patience). It was humbling to realize how easily I had missed such an important lesson. There was another lesson, hidden amongst all that politeness and impatience: My mom really did the best she could.

I get it now, and I’m (patiently) cultivating patience – in the “Wait a minute” way, this time around.


Head to the Family Room


Is it Your Fault that Your Child is Impatient

 This post was written by Ashley Trexler exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Ashley Trexler is a passionate parent, dedicated to debunking popular parenting advice that doesn’t work, and raising healthier, happier kids. If you're sick of the same old parenting advice everyone is spouting, she warmly invites you to come check her out at Lies About Parenting.