Best-selling author Pamela Druckerman, who is leading our first Stress-Less Parenting workshop, offered us three keys to building children’s patience from her new book, Bébé Day By Day, and challenged us to bake a cake with our kids as a fun way to put this week’s lesson into practice.
As Druckerman says, patience is a muscle. It takes a lot of practice to build it up, so we can’t expect to see results immediately. But stay persistent because it’s a skill that will save us and our children a lot of misery.
When Druckerman visited our New York City offices earlier this month, she answered some of your biggest questions about building patience and handling tantrums and other problematic behavior.
Q: You talk about baking a cake as a lesson in patience. What are some other ways to teach a child patience?
PD: Waiting between meals is a good way to teach patience. Serving meals in courses — not six courses, but maybe three — and serving vegetables first. I think one thing that makes an enormous difference in terms of patience and also the parents quality of life is the “no interrupting rule.” … It’s not that we have a pro-interruption policy [in America], but de facto, kids are allowed to interrupt, and you do turn your attention to them. When I tell French people that, they’re like, “Really, how can you live that way? … How can you possibly accept that?” So they aspire to and often do say, “Honey, I’m in the middle of talking to someone, and I’ll be with you in a minute.” And then they resume their conversation and then, two minutes later, whatever it is, turn back to the kids. There’s that validation of yes, there’s a system here and it is going to work, and I will get the attention I need.
B: What’s the best way to avoid tantrums for a very stubborn 3-year-old? And if you can’t avoid them, what’s your advice for calming them quickly?
PD: I don’t think there’s a secret elixir for stopping tantrums. French parents are just as traumatized by tantrums as American parents are … but I think they realize, rule No. 1, you don’t give in. … You can be understanding during the tantrum, you can say, “I completely understand.” You can’t completely expect the child not be angry when he doesn’t get what he wants. I would be angry too.
Q: How do I stop my 4-year-old from back talking to us?
PD: I think what the French want to avoid at all costs is falling into the cycle of perpetual negotiations with kids. [It’s about] being really clear about where the no-go areas are and policing those effectively, and not giving in about those things. … You remind the kids of the rules. But of course, it’s not that French kids obediently accept the rules; you have to explain [them]. But [it’s important to ] not give in on the key things that are important and create this structure … of your most important values. Knowing yourself that you’re not going to give in, being OK with frustrating your kids a little bit, is a medium-term solution to the back-talk problem…
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