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Being more patient with our children (and ourselves)


Article by The Montessori Notebook. Written by Simone Davies. Image by Getty Images

If I ask parents what’s the thing they want to work on most right now, it’s most often wanting to be more patient with their kids.

I had one father at the end of a workshop tell me that these Montessori ideas for being a more respectful parent are lovely and work really well…when he is not busy/tired/being pulled in too many directions.

True, right?!

So today a quick checklist for you to look through and see what you can work on that will make the biggest difference to being more patient with our children. To look with fresh eyes. Not just to say, “I should be more patient with my child/ren.”

Here are some things that might be stopping you from being patient with your child/ren. Or perhaps you’ll come up with your own ideas.

A checklist for being more patient with our children

  • Do you take your child’s behavior personally? Remember they are having a hard time, not giving you a hard time.

  • Can you set kind and clear limits? Do you have clear house rules? Can you set them in a kind way before you reach your limit?

  • Do you observe to see the situation objectively?

  • Do you take the time to teach your child/ren skills? It takes longer up front, but saves a lot of time in the long term, as well as raising independent children.

  • Do you use your home to save you time? For example, when your child/ren ask for help with something, can you set up your space so they can help themselves?

  • Do you take time every day to connect with your child? Or are you only nagging and giving instructions which they ignore? Remember, without connection we get very little cooperation (with adults too).

  • Can we use humor or music to lighten the mood? Are you ever like me and notice things have got way too serious?

  • Can we use the principles of Montessori parenting to help us? Step back to supervise and allow them to make more discoveries for themselves? Be our child’s guide, rather than their boss or servant?

  • Do you have your own interests? Or are you looking for your happiness from your child/ren?

  • Are you having your own needs met? Or are you putting everyone else first? Is there a way to have everyone’s needs met?

  • Are you physically strong? Eating nourishing food? Taking the time to exercise is a way you enjoy? To rest?

  • Are you constantly tired? Is there something you could do about it?

  • How do you look after yourself? Chats with friends? A bath in the evening?

  • Can you enjoy some tea or coffee as you care for others? I drink a LOT of tea.

  • Do you nurture your soul? Meditation? Remember to stop to breathe? Have a morning ritual or evening ritual?

  • Do you receive care? From a partner? Friends? A doctor, psychologist, osteopath, chiropractor? Massage? Or come up with a creative solution.

  • Do you need some time in nature?

  • Are you over scheduled? What can you let go of?

  • Are you present? How do you turn off from work and arrive at home? If you don’t work, how do you manage doing things for yourself and things for the children and things for everyone?

  • Do you practice belly breathing (helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax)? Can you catch your mind being busy and turn the waves into ripples and maybe into stillness?

  • Do you have a partner? Do you make time to connect/do fun things together? Can you do a babysitting swap with friends?

How to use the checklist

1. Choose ONE thing

Whilst it might seem like you want to work on everything on the checklist, usually there is one thing that we could improve that will make everything easier or unnecessary. (I recommend reading the book The One Thing for anyone.)

Then we look at what obstacles are stopping us from making this change. Remove these obstacles.

Let’s take being tired. Perhaps you decide that if you were less tired, this would make everything else easier and you are more likely to be more patient.

So look at the obstacles. What’s stopping you from being less tired?

  • Not going to bed early enough?

  • Not being able to sleep in on the weekend?

  • Disturbed sleep?

  • Physical problem like sleep apnea affecting the quality of your sleep?

  • Not exercising?

  • Not taking rests when your child naps?

  • etc

Say you’d like to go to bed earlier – what is stopping you? Perhaps you have too much on, you find the evening hours lovely when it’s finally quiet, you are more an evening person, it’s when you and your partner get to hang out, etc.

Then you look to see how you might remove these obstacles – get someone to help you, take on less things, find a way to have quiet time before the family wakes up, hide your phone in the evening so you make more use of your quiet time.

Or you might decide that this isn’t going to work and you try something else that would make you less tired.

2. Be creative

I’m asking you to be creative about how you might remove those obstacles.

It’s different for everyone. I once spoke with a mother and thought the answer was probably that she needed to go to bed earlier. But I asked what she thought might work for her. And she came up with her own solution to make sure she stopped during the day for a cup of tea at regular times so that she had energy for those last hours of the day when her family were always at their tiredest. Brilliant.

3. Practice for 21+ days

Focus on it for 21 days (enough time to make a new habit) to 66 days (when they say a new habit will be integrated). It’s hard to establish new habits, so maybe make a visual calendar where you can mark them off, or use a Habits trackers on your phone.

4. Don’t forget – practice patience with ourselves

Try to be a little patient with ourselves along the way. Show ourselves a little kindness, a little compassion and nurture our little child. Sometimes I like to ask myself what is hurting? Why am I being triggered? Is it something I need to work on myself?

And to give myself a little patience that these things take time. We are never going to be perfect parents. We can model apologizing when we get it wrong. We can say, “This is what I should have said…”/“This is what I should have done.

Want to know what I am practicing?

To be honest, I am quite a patient person by nature. And I have been meditating regularly (albeit lying in my bed first thing in the morning) since 2015, have a pretty regular morning and evening ritual, and my children are now older teenagers.

But I still like to practice and the thing I am focusing on right now is to check in during the day with my breath. To connect with myself. It’s easy to get swept up in what everyone wants from us.

So something I learned from the free home retreat I followed with @slowescapes is to take a small pause when I finish something – moving from breakfast to get dressed…pause…breathe…connect. Get dressed to the first thing of the day…pause…breathe. Finish my newsletter…pause…breathe.

After 10 days, I notice I’m a little more mindful (still a work in progress), I choose the next thing more intentionally, the days feel slower and more enjoyable, and I’m a lot more grounded.

Some ideas to get you started

Why we are impatient…

What we can do about it…

We are tired

  • Go to bed earlier

  • Treat any sleep apnea that affects the quality of our sleep

  • Remove phones from the bedroom – use an old-fashioned alarm clock

We have adult expectations

  • We can go slower

  • We can have age-appropriate expectations

  • We can put ourselves in our child’s shoes to see their perspective

We are late

  • Wake up earlier than the rest of the family to get ready in peace and be available to help when needed

  • Avoid over-scheduling

  • Don’t say yes to things you don’t want to do

  • Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to allow a buffer and get a coffee on the way if you are early

Toddlers are so slow

  • Make a cup of tea to drink OR put on music you like OR burn some oil etc while your toddler gets dressed, has a bath etc.

  • Count rosary beads like Dr Montessori did to stop herself from stepping in too soon

  • Allow lots of time!

  • Do some observation while you are waiting

Toddlers are inefficient

  • Understand that they are not trying to wind you up – they are living in the present moment. For example, a toddler will often peel off a bit of banana skin and take it to the bin, then come back peel off another piece, come back to the bin, etc.

  • Don’t waste your energy to explain how they can be more efficient

We are burned out

  • Get some help to look after the kids

  • Have a bath every night

  • Fill up your own cup with things you enjoy – eg, a night alone, a night with friends, call a friend, eat chocolate, read a book that’s not about kids

We are not present

  • Practice meditation and being more mindful

  • Practice gratitude for what you already have

  • Take on less

  • Own our choices – change what you can + accept what you can’t change

I hope this inspires you to try something too. It doesn’t have to be perfect. We are just trying to make things easier on ourselves. And bring more joy back into our parenting and our lives.

I’d love to hear if you try it out. And if you find yourself a little bit more at peace with the world.

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