Back to school means lots of waiting on lines. Stores are filled with parents and kids checking off their long lists of supplies. Even buying school shoes can become an ordeal. Last week I sat with my daughter-in-law and granddaughters in a crowded children’s shoe shop and could not believe watching night fall until it became our turn to be helped.

But what some see as a terribly frustrating experience can become a tremendous opportunity to teach our children an incredible life lesson. As we are confronted with these long waits, it is important to recognize that we can become teachers for our children in this awesome classroom called life. Parents who insist that their kids are unable to sit and wait patiently are shortchanging their children. There will be future situations when, no matter who you are or how effectively your parents were able to circumvent the rules, you are going to need patience.

The Gift of Patience

There will be times that your child will confront frustrating situations. Sitting in long traffic, waiting for a teacher to call on you when there are 25 kids in a classroom, not understanding the math homework despite working on the problem for 30 minutes, wanting the latest phone even though you have a perfectly good last year’s model are all excellent scenarios for children to gain an added dimension to their character growth.

School may bring learning issues and challenges that require great perseverance. Sometimes our sons and daughters will be tested by others who hurl insults or act with nastiness. We cannot always direct the situations we are in. The actions of others are beyond our control. But what we can stress to our children is that the way we respond to a situation, what we say when we are angry, how we act when we feel overwhelmed, is most definitely within our reach. The key is working on our character.

How can we teach our children character?

We want our children to react calmly to life’s twists and turns. So many parents complain that their children cannot deal with even small disappointments. They speak about kids who erupt in anger when carpool is late for pickup or supper is not ready on time and they are ‘starving’. These are the little moments through which we can teach our children to remain composed while they confront their aggravations. Reacting calmly, working through the situation and not losing it despite being frustrated empowers a child to lead with his mind and not just his emotions.

The same holds true for parents who believe that they are helping when a child complains that they cannot possibly do the science report and then the parents sit up till all hours of the night completing the work. Helping a child is one thing, stepping in and not allowing a child to struggle or feel frustrated becomes over sheltering that child. Seek out the small opportunities that come your way each day when your child can confront his emotions and learn to be calm.

The Gift of Anticipation

Many of us have fond memories of taking our film to be developed. We would anxiously wait for the allotted day and eagerly sort through the package of photos. Some have childhood memories of collections – coins, dolls, stamps, stickers, or stationary. Each time a new piece was acquired there was a feeling of thrill. Shopping trips meant waiting our turn and knowing that when the next sales person would be free we would be helped. I recall checking the mail each day waiting for friends overseas to respond to my letters. When I finally spotted the familiar writing, I would rip the envelopes open and hungrily read their words.

Our culture has trained us and our children to live in a world of instant gratification. In a split second pictures appear on our cameras. Food is zapped in the microwave. Emails and texts appear instantly. We buy online, our children scroll through shopping sites with ease. There is no learning to anticipate our turn. And too many parents make collecting impossible when they cave in as their children whine that they want ‘more now.’

Our easy, hassle-free lifestyle has robbed our children of the gift of anticipation. Waiting for a moment to happen or anticipating a desired object makes us appreciate our gifts so much more. We value what we have because we have invested our time and energy. When we are given things automatically we lose the preciousness and stop cherishing our blessings.

The Gift of Humility

There is another character trait that has remained out of reach as we try to make life easier for our children and that is the feeling of humility. When kids are not given the opportunity to see that others come first, they grow arrogant. Waiting means that we open our eyes and see that this world does not only revolve around us. There are many types of people with whom we share this universe, all kinds of children and families. No one’s time is more precious.

The roots of chutzpah and disrespect are sheer arrogance. Thinking that I must always be number one enables a child to speak and act with disdain for others.

As we greet a new school year, let’s help our children learn to confront the ups and downs with a more positive spirit. Allow them to learn that patience, anticipation, and humility make this world a better place for us all to live in.