The power of patience

Kids constantly test parents -- and often just to get a reaction. Whatever that reaction is, experts say, parental patience is essential.

Lilly Echeverria/The Miami Herald/AP/File
Jerome Chambers comforted his daughter, Madison, on the first day of school in Sunrise, Fla.

A good reporter starts with a premise, a hunch, the germ of an idea. As reporting goes deeper, the going-in assumption invariably becomes more nuanced. In the case of a Monitor cover story on corporal punishment of children (click here) – a subject in the news because of a high-profile case involving a professional athlete in the United States – Stephanie Hanes finds that different traditions, belief systems, races, regions, and backgrounds account for different approaches. 

Even so, there is a common thread: No matter what the cultural differences are, the most important quality parents must have in childrearing is patience, or self-control. 

Take toddlers (many parents would add “please”). Stephanie has two. Their job is to test their new powers – physical, emotional, mental – to see what reaction they get, where their boundaries are. Stephanie’s oldest, who is 3-1/2, has flown on airplanes perhaps 50 times, but the other day, for the first time, she decided to scream. “She saw us becoming flustered and angered,” Stephanie recalls. “But she stopped when we calmed down.” 

No one says calming down is easy for either parent or child, especially during a tantrum. But it seems to be the key to healthy parenting. Kids – toddlers and preschoolers, and, well, also preteens, and, OK, teens and young adults – push. They challenge adult authority. That has always been their job. But that doesn’t mean they are automatically doing their job right. 

Wonderful as they are, children are not born wise and capable. They must learn. They do that by observation, instruction, and correction. A good boss (or teacher or parent) knows that disciplining a subordinate requires both firmness and patience. Flying off the handle instills fear. It gets attention, but the cost is high. The superior’s credibility is undermined; communication breaks down.

If there is one prescription that everyone – however one feels about corporal punishment – agrees on, it is this: Kids test, parents correct, and patience isn’t just a virtue; it is the necessary quality of parenting.

“I know that doing this story made me become a lot more patient with my kids,” Stephanie says.

* * * 
This is the eve of midterm elections in the US. No matter what your political beliefs – or how inspired, motivated, polarized, or dispirited politics might leave you – elections matter. It might seem small and boring for one person to cast a ballot, but that core act of self-government is longed for around the world. It is worth our support.

Self-government often brings change, which can be disruptive, which is why China, Russia, and other countries ban it in whole or in part. But change drives progress. Thomas Jefferson saw democracy as crucial to “the improvability of the condition of man.” That one small step into the voting booth plays an essential part in whatever leap forward humankind has made or will make.

Be sure to take that step.

John Yemma is the Monitor's editor-at-large. He can be reached at yemma@csmonitor.com.

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