Teaching Patience to the On-Demand Generation

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

My five-year-old is part of what I like to think of as the on-demand generation. Thanks to the wealth of truly amazing technology and innovations like Amazon, Netflix, and even YouTube, if there’s something she wants to watch, play, or buy, she can do so almost instantly—or have it delivered two days later.

Most TV shows can be blown through in a matter of days rather than waiting a week between episodes; if she has a question about life, the universe, and everything, she can grab my iPhone and ask Siri for an immediate answer.

We are lucky enough to be able to afford those services for her, and it is admittedly a “first world problem” that I’ve had a hand in creating. I’m the one who signed up for Netflix streaming, after all. But I can’t help but wonder if such easy access will make it difficult later in life when she does have to wait to get what she wants. Will patience be a lost skill in our on-demand lives? To make sure it isn’t, we practice a few simple ways to learn that not all gratification has to be instant.

Save Up

Ah, the allowance, a time-honored tradition of telling kids, “If you want something, save up and pay for it yourself.”

This is a pretty standard answer to forcing kids to be patient until they have enough money to buy something themselves. This doesn’t have to just apply to a toy they spotted in the store, but can also extend to that movie on iTunes or game in the App Store that they really want.

Spend Time on Activities That Take Time

Putting down the screens to do activities together is always a good idea, but picking things to do that require some patience is another practical way to practice. Baking together, putting together puzzles, or even playing a game like chess are all fun things to do together. If you live in the right area for it, planting a garden or even just a potted plant is a perfect way to learn that not all gratification has to be instant as well.

What I love to do most, though, are science experiments that take some time to see the results. Here are a few phenomenal suggestions for experiments that will hold even young kids’ interest while they take time to run:

Overnight Crystal Garden from BabbleDabbleDo

Color Changing Carnations from Steve Spangler Science

Walking Water (Capillary Action) from Coffee Cups and Crayons

Take a Look, It’s in a Book

The next time your young child has a question about the world around us, don’t just turn to Siri or Google for the answer! While it’s easy to use the Internet and simply search for the answer, taking the time to find a book and flip through it for the right information is another good way to learn patience. Not only is it an excuse to spend time in the library or read the book together (for younger kids), kids are likely to find even more fascinating facts just by flipping through the pages.

I highly recommend keeping some reference books on the bookshelf for just such occasions. DK Publishing offers some great books like First Animal Encyclopedia, which I reached for the other day when my daughter asked me what a shrew is.

Write a Pen Pal

Penning a handwritten letter to faraway friends and family is on its way to being another lost art. Taking the time to mail a letter and wait for a reply can be even more gratifying than sending a text or email. What kid doesn’t love getting mail?

Your child can pick their cousin or relative in another city or state to write to, or you could reach out to your friends on Facebook to ask if any of their kids are interested in exchanging letters. You can also use a pen pal matching web site to sign up your child and find a friend, but remember to exercise caution on these sites before handing out personal information. (A P.O. box is one way to safeguard your address.) Kids 13 years and up can sign up at the wonderfully active and helpful International Geek Girl Pen Pal Club.

And finally, limiting screen time is an obvious solution to leaving my five-year-old to her own devices (no pun intended, wait, yes it was) to entertain herself without instant gratification. It’s okay to be bored!

Do you have any ways you help your kids learn to be patient? Let us know in the comments below!

Kelly Knox is a freelance writer in Seattle, WA, where she contributes to local parenting magazines. She also writes for StarWars.com, Geek & Sundry, Forever Young Adult, and more. You can find crafts and art projects for geeky families at her blog The St{art} Button.