It’s no secret that patience doesn’t come easily to kids. And the challenge to develop it may be increasing in our modern world, given that kids have immediate access to so many things that have led them to expect instant gratification 24/7.
They have constant internet access and on-demand TV services. They don’t have to wait to see how a photo will turn out after it’s been developed; they can see it right away on a digital camera’s window or their phones. And they can reach their parents wherever they are, thanks to texting.
“It’s a now generation — everything is instant and accessible and kids are used to having everything quickly,” says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist based in Palm Springs, Calif., and author of “Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.” Yet this new reality comes at the expense of kids developing the ability to tolerate waiting or delays without getting upset.
Kids aren’t born with patience. It’s a quality they develop over time. “Young kids are supposed to be egocentric because their whole world is revolving around them,” Borba explains. This is partly because parents and caregivers are constantly attentive to a child’s needs and safety, and partly because of how their brains work. The goal is to gradually help kids build self-control as their brains mature and develop.
“We live in a social world and we can’t have everything we want when we want it — that’s where patience and self-control come in,” says Pamela Cole, a professor of psychology and human development at Penn State. “The years between toddlerhood and kindergarten are critical for developing patience.”
By age 6 or 7, kids can start to think about their own behavior and the consequences of that behavior and better understand the concept of patience, says Pamela Davis-Kean, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “Patience is another name for self-regulation, which is both behavioral and emotional.”