Empower Elementary—Teaching Kids about Patience

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

Our culture certainly doesn’t promote patience. People are accustomed to drive-through banking, fast food, instant oatmeal, and on-demand entertainment. Making someone else wait is considered poor customer service or rude behavior. Because our fast-paced world expects instant results, patience is often in short supply! When personal challenges drag on and on and when people become demanding, believers can defer to the Holy Spirit. He enables and empowers us to demonstrate supernatural patience.

True Story: Nine-year-old Jesse was high-energy—and notorious for interrupting. Each time Shireen asked her small group a question, Jesse not only responded first, but he impulsively shouted out his thoughts. In addition, Jesse often interrupted other students. As a result, Shireen had to exert extra effort to hold her group’s attention.

Shireen pulled Jesse aside and spent a few minutes talking with him about his family, his likes, and his dislikes. Jesse loved the personal attention and glowed with the chance to talk to her. Shireen asked, “Jesse, I wonder if you can help me with something?” Jesse nodded enthusiastically. She then explained, “You’re a natural leader, but each time you shout out and interrupt, our group ends up off-topic. Would you help me?” Then Shireen gave examples of how to share ideas in a helpful and patient way.

Jesse nodded sadly and then said, “I have so many ideas! And I’m worried that you’ll never call on me.” He was dejected at the idea of waiting to talk. Shireen shared, “When you jump in and interrupt, you make it hard for others to share. God can help you choose patience! You can learn to wait for your turn to talk!” Then Shireen invited Jesse to share any extra ideas with her privately after their small group time each week.

Though Jesse continued to struggle with restlessness and interrupting, he slowly improved. He learned that waiting for a turn was worth the effort; he realized that interrupting the group was not a loving response. God wanted him to develop patience.

What is Patience? A patient person waits with composure—not worrying or becoming upset. Patience is a fruit of God’s Spirit. The Lord empowers believer to choose patience whenever the situation requires—and each day offers many opportunities! Kids wait for dinner, wait for a file to upload, wait for a friend to call back, and wait for a turn on the playground. Each scenario demands a response—will patience or restlessness rule the moment?

God empowers believers to patiently trust His timing. The New Testament describes two types of patience: patience with people (longsuffering), and patience with daily, difficult situations (endurance). The Bible has many examples where God shows “longsuffering” patience toward His people (1 Timothy 1:16). The Lord encourages Christians to exercise the same quality toward each other (1 Corinthians 13:4). He also calls believers to develop endurance (1 Peter 2:20; Revelation 14:12).

Promote Patience: How can children’s workers capitalize on opportunities to equip kids to patiently manage their restless frustrations? Children’s ministry settings are optimal for teaching ways to cultivate patience. These five ideas will encourage and build patience in your ministry to elementary students.

  1. Understand God’s Design: Because western culture promotes instant gratification, church ministries need to put a premium on teaching and modeling patience to kids. This can lay a foundation for children’s behavior in your classrooms. Patience is vital for creating a loving community and showing grace to one another.Start with the Bible! Read and explain verses such as: Psalm 40:1-2; Proverbs 14:29; 1 Corinthians 13:4; James 5:10; 1 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:9; Revelation 14:12. Discuss which verses refer to patience with people and which refer to patience with situations.
  1. Cultivate a Patience Culture: Impatient conduct is often manifested in social dynamics. Children want to jump to the front of the line, interrupt, and “goof off” while they wait for others to finish a project or worksheet. To remedy this, ask your teachers and volunteers to establish expectations that cultivate patience in kids. Here are several examples:
    • When you want my attention, raise your hand, or call out my name once, and then wait patiently. Signs of impatience show me that you are not ready for help; signs of patience mean you are ready for help.
    • When you are waiting your turn for an activity or game, have a cheerful, respectful attitude. People who whine or say “hurry up” may lose the privilege of playing the game.
    • We always choose kind words towards others—even when it is hard!
    • Whenever you are becoming impatient, pray. God always wants to help you!
  1. Share Motivating Examples: Each time we choose God’s pathway instead of heading our own direction, we win! Although choosing to exercise patience can cause front-end frustration, it ultimately brings long-term blessing. Consider sharing with your students one of these examples that illustrate the benefit of choosing patience.
    • Search the Internet for examples of the “Marshmallow Test” (find a family-friendly video showing children). The original study was conducted by Stanford University in the 1960’s. This test examined patience and self-control in 4-year-olds. Recent videos show the struggle kids go through as they simply learn to wait. Some succeed and receive a reward; others do not. After viewing the video, discuss how to “wait well” and how to keep a good attitude while waiting!
    • Talk with kids about gardening. Bring in fruits, vegetables, and grains and talk about the process of growing food. Fruit and vegetables never spring up overnight. After being planted, watered, fertilized, and pruned, eventually a wonderful harvest is available!
  1. Do a “Patience” Challenge: Invite students to complete the Patience Quiz; then encourage everyone to take the Patience Challenge.

    Patience Quiz: On a scale of 1-5, gauge your level of patience in the following situations. (1 = never true about me; 5 = always true about me.)

    Patience with People

    • I go crazy when I have to wait for someone.
    • I wish my brother or sister would quit bothering me.
    • I get sick of listening to my friend brag.
    • I interrupt other people’s conversations.
    • I like to take cuts in line.

    Patience with Situations

    • I wish I didn’t have to do chores.
    • I don’t like practicing for music or sports; I just like playing.
    • Every year it feels like Christmas will never come.
    • I peek ahead at the last page of a book to see how it will turn out.
    • I try to get by with as little effort as possible.

    Evaluation: How did you do? (The higher the score, the less patient he or she is.)

    • Score 10-20: Patient! You typically respond patiently in everyday situations. Great job!
    • Score 21-30: Moderately Patient! You normally respond with patience, but some situations set off restless frustration or anger.
    • Score 31-50: Not Very Patient! You have room to grow in patience. The good news is that the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit can help!

    Patience Challenge: Encourage your students to work on patience together for a designated period of time. During your challenge period, apologize each time you respond in frustration to a person or situation. After you address each situation, remind kids that they can begin again with a clean slate. Celebrate your successes and debrief each learning moment!

  1. Share Personal Stories: By now, you have learned a great deal about patience. When talking about patience with kids, be sure to share personal examples of HOW God transformed you. Children often know WHAT to do, but struggle with HOW to change. Your testimony of choosing patience in a specific situation or with a difficult person will connect with your kids. Share what it was like when the Lord empowered you to choose patience, even when you didn’t want to! Affirm your deliberate choice—aided by God’s empowering help from the Holy Spirit.
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