Friday, July 20, 2012

Teaching Kids Patience

As discussed in French Kids Eat Everything, French children do not snack. Instead, they eat only during scheduled meals. Druckerman confirms this practice in Bringing Up Bebe. My initial reaction to this was: yikes, too far. Excessive rigidity with food is a hallmark of eating disorders. With two little girls, I’d much rather take a laid back and flexible approach to food. Let them snack, just ensure those snacks are healthy (e.g., only fruit and veggies). But Druckerman backs up this method, citing “the Marshmallow Test.” Growing up, the Marshmallow Test was sort of sacred in my family. Given this, I’m not sure how to proceed.

The Marshmallow Test was conducted on four-year olds. The kids were left in a room with a marshmallow and told if they waited until the experimenter returned, they could eat the marshmallow plus an extra one; if they ate the marshmallow before then, no extra marshmallow. It was a test of a child’s ability to delay gratification. What is more, it was highly correlated with SAT scores and general awesomeness later in life. Not to mention, kids who can delay gratification are less likely to go to pieces in stressful situations, right here and now. And what if, just like we can't enjoy ourselves when they are flipping out, perhaps (or obviously), they can't enjoy themselves either?

Asking kids to forgo snacks and wait until scheduled times to eat does allow them to practice delayed gratification. However, I’d argue it is possible to be a little more flexible with food while also teaching these skills.

Druckerman’s suggestions for teaching patience
  • Begin with small amounts of time, like waiting a few seconds (a game of freeze could be good for this), and build slowly until Hannah will be able to wait quietly without asking me ten times in a row "who you are talking to on the phone?" THE CARPET CLEANING MAN, OK?! GEEZ your kids can make it through longer trials.
  • Model patience. This is especially important because {obviously} you are teaching patience. So don’t blow up at a kid for not being able to wait quietly and patiently. Gently redirect them and help them learn to distract themselves (the most successful four-year olds  in the experiment did creative things to distract themselves, like covering their eyes or licking the desk).
  • Give assignments that require patience. Young French children are taught to bake a simple cake (using yogurt, and then the empty yogurt containers for measuring). This sounds fun and brilliant! It is a great opportunity for you to model patience with the child (learning to crack an egg, oh my) and them to learn patience with the mixing, the cooking, and the cooling of the cake.
These discussions in the book really made me think long and hard about my expectations for my girls as well as my reactions to their less desirable behaviors. I think I can and should safely expect a lot more than I have from them. I owe it to them to patiently teach them how to do more complicated chores while also teaching them how to quietly wait for longer amounts of time.

More reading on toddler patience and the marshmallow test:
The nueroscience behind the marshmallow test
Teaching Toddlers Patience
The New Yorker: Don't! 
How kids can learn to resist temptation and why they need to
A yogurt cake recipe for kids (I'm going to try this with my girls this weekend, expect an update with pictures!) 

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I always talk about the marshmallow test!