Immediacy is craved by youngsters but as teachers and parents we need to be aware of the effects on developing characters if we always provide instant gratification to children. We ALL need to learn to wait! (Not an easy concept for children brought up in the age of push a button and something exciting happens!)
Today I came across an interesting article about the famous marshmallow test), done with children that showed that the ability to delay gratification has such a huge effect on our lives. (Stanford University during the 60s)
The interesting part for child whisperers is that a second experiment set up at Rochester University to replicate this but with an important twist, proved that we can deliberately set out to develop this ability to delay gratification in children.
Before offering the child the marshmallow, the researchers split the children into two groups.
“The first group was exposed to a series of unreliable experiences. For example, the researcher gave the child a small box of crayons and promised to bring a bigger one, but never did. Then the researcher gave the child a small sticker and promised to bring a better selection of stickers, but never did.
Meanwhile, the second group had very reliable experiences. They were promised better crayons and got them. They were told about the better stickers and then they received them.
You can imagine the impact these experiences had on the marshmallow test. The children in the unreliable group had no reason to trust that the researchers would bring a second marshmallow and thus they didn’t wait very long to eat the first one.
Meanwhile, the children in the second group were training their brains to see delayed gratification as a positive. Every time the researcher made a promise and then delivered on it, the child’s brain registered two things: 1) waiting for gratification is worth it and 2) I have the capability to wait. As a result, the second group waited an average of four times longer than the first group.
In other words, the child’s ability to delay gratification and display self-control was not a predetermined trait, but rather was impacted by the experiences and environment that surrounded them. In fact, the effects of the environment were almost instantaneous. Just a few minutes of reliable or unreliable experiences were enough to push the actions of each child in one direction or another.”
So what can we learn from this?
We can learn to clean up our act- especially as teachers and BE CONSISTENT with the environment we set up for learning. We can learn that rewards, when consistently and fairly used WORK!
Just this week I had a child show us this. This child is extremely bright but was not showing this at school. He has developed the trait of not paying attention (he is 6) as he is bored and has learned that his ability is a nuisance in his class so he has just switched off. Not a stupid way of coping when you consider he has to spend from 9-3, 5 days a week in this environment! His parents have enrolled him for 2 learning sessions with us per week to try to turn this situation around.
We set out to capture this child’s heart and I listened as the teachers at my center openly acknowledged his great skill with maths (he can work at a level 2 years above his age) and I noticed this little smile growing on his face. During his two 1.5 hr group learning sessions this week I tried to consistently acknowledge him and thank him for his efforts: wonderful mind-mapping, writing, maths and so on. After the second session he bounced out the door – happy, proud of his achievements and back in the learning community! Simple verbal praise delivered on a consistent basis with accompanying points is turning this child around and helping him realise his amazing intellect is a gift not a nuisance. Not rocket-science!
As parents and teachers we can set out today to notice what children CAN do, help them improve and set up goals with them with simple rewards built in.
We award points during each session and children use these to fill in the squares on their rocket ships. (100 squares.) When they have filled in 100 squares they get to choose a prize. It helps that we keep the prize box filled and children notice the wonderful contents as they fill in their scores each week!
They learn to WAIT for rewards and WORK for them!
During each learning session children can earn points for paying attention, getting homework done, neat written work, kind acts, having imaginative ideas………. They LOVE their points system and it works. Consistency of approach is ALWAYS the key. I figure that if we can just turn one young life around a week so they can enjoy learning and develop their potential, the effort and grey hairs will be worth it! Teaching and parenting truly are the most important jobs in the world!