This NPR article talks about a new version of the famous marshmallow test. In the original study researchers were looking for children to show delayed gratification by being able to wait patiently for a second treat while not eating the first treat that is within reach.
Today’s children do not do very well on this test with fewer than half of them able to resist the temptation of the treat in front of them. For those who are able to wait, the skill of patient waiting leads to better academics and success in life and school. The ability to delay gratification – or put off a small reward in favor of a larger one later – is a desired skill, indeed.
The NPR article talks about the difference between kids in the U.S. and Germany when compared to the children of rural Cameroon. Apparently, waiting patiently is a super skill for these children and it is most likely linked to parenting style.
While we can’t move to Cameroon in order to raise patient children we can make some changes in our own parenting to encourage this same effect. Here are three differences that can be addressed:
Nurture a positive attitude: In situations that require waiting you can empathize and redirect by helping your child to find the silver lining:
“It’s no fun to wait in line, but won’t these groceries taste good when we get them home?”
Now, don’t follow this up with a bribe, or coaxing. Just let your child know that waiting is a part of life.
Parents know best: Children learn to trust parents who are able to tell them what the best course of action is. Bargaining, bribing, and arguing are all things that might work in the short run, but leave a child wondering who is in charge. That just creates anxiety which in turn encourages more argument. The child thinks, "If my parent isn't in charge I guess I need to be."
Be predictable: Children look for patterns in behavior and are happiest when they can predict what a parent will do – even if that action is not favorable. If an activity is not healthy, affordable, or timely, then don’t give in to pleading.
The bottom line: your children want to trust the person who is in charge. This helps them to feel safe and learn. They are too young to lean on their own understanding!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3: 5