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Worth the wait- Delayed gratification

20 Feb

delayed-gratificationOne of the simplest  but most fun exercises that I do when I run programmes for students is the Marshmallow experiment. I have provided this kids as young as 10 right up to 18-year-old students. Most of us know the experiment by now. The original experiment that took place in Stanford University in 1968  by Walter Mischel placed children in a room with a single marshmallow. The children were told by the person conducting the activity that they would return in 15 minutes and if the single marshmallow has remained uneaten then the child would receive a second marshmallow. Ten minutes alone with one of your favourite treats is a long time as a child and it is not a surprise to discover that two-thirds of the children eat the marshmallow thus forfeiting the chance of a second one. Although it was also discovered that if Children were instructed to think of the treat in front of them as a fluffy cloud like object or to think about salty pretzels rather than what was in front of them the desire to eat the marshmallow would be delayed. The experiment we know did not end there. Researchers followed up on the children almost 20 years on and discovered that delayed gratification resulted in greater SAT scores in schools and over all greater competencies in life.

I do a similar experiment by leaving the marshmallow on the desk in front of the child and continue with class. Those who make it through the class gain a second marshmallow. To me it is a fun and interesting experiment. I never mention the pretext to why I have done this. It is just a fun and interesting aside to learning about positive mental health. Kids simply like marshmallows!

But on a more serious note it seems that there is greater consequences from lack of delayed gratification.

In a controversial article by Marilyn Wedge in Psychology today titled Why French kids don’t have ADHD

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts. Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé. I believe her insights are relevant to a discussion of why French children are not diagnosed with ADHD in anything like the numbers we are seeing in the United States.

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sportspractice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France. (Author’s note: I am not personally in favor of spanking children).

As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.

I am not going to enter the world of arguments about this article but we can see that ultimately delaying gratification for our children from a young age can build a more resilient, patient, accepting and grateful adult.

The problem is your child has entered a World were delayed gratification is  not the way a society works. We are asked to eat on the go. We pass shops selling cooked fast food as we travel from lunch to dinner. We eat at the wrong times which the South Koreans can’t believe. Schoolkids buy chocolates and sweets on their way to school that would have been  reserved as treats for special occasions or when the favourite aunt arrived 20/30 years ago. We have lost the wonder. I am sucked in to it too. Remember the excitement years ago when you heard your favourite song on the radio. “Don’t touch the dial that’s my favourite song” now it’s harder to get so excited when you have 9,000 + songs on your iPod and access to all the songs you could want to hear on Spotify streaming all day. The magic and wonder don’t hold the same spark. So you turn the dial and look for something else. “you can listen to your favourite song some other time.”

We know that gratitude works we know it lowers our blood pressure, increases happiness by up to 25%, creates greater sleep patterns and increases the likelihood of exercise. But in a world of  with very little chance of delayed gratification we find it harder to know what we to be grateful for when everything is available on tap all the time.

When we create a society that has never understood what it is to not have. Where Parents provide anything for their children no matter what the cost. Have you ever witnessed the actions of a Child who has experienced getting what they want for the formative years of their lives suddenly hearing a refusal for a request for sweets at a supermarket checkout from a parent who thinks enough is enough.

Are we creating a society that will struggle to cope when adversity knocks on their door in later life because we have no reference points to understand what it is not to have. Delayed gratification creates value in what we do not presently have,or for what we are about to receive.It is simply good parenting.

What should we do

  • Educating our children where our food comes from can create an understanding that it took more than walking to the supermarket to put this food on your table.
  • Save treats for weekends or special occasions. That feeling I had on Easter Saturday as a child knowing I could eat all the chocolate the next day that I had stored up in the fridge over my Lenten fast was like winning the keys to the Wonka factory.
  • Learn to say “No” and stick to your guns.
  • Stop buying crap for kids who don’t even know it’s their Birthday or Christmas because they are only two years old.It’s pointless and starts the child on the hedonic treadmill.
  • If you can’t afford something a child needs explain why and if it’s needed tell them what you have to do to or they have to do before they receive it. Nothing should be seen as immediate.
  • Create an eating routine were food is valued.
  • Teach your children to value what they have. Many in this world have nothing and I mean nothing! Let them understand this.

Be grateful and enjoy the pleasures of the simple things.

Gratitude

3 Dec

sunriseOver the past few months I have presented a number of talks to various groups either adults or students. Some of the talks are based around different topics positive mental health, happiness or inspiration. There is one thing that links all these together and that is something so simple and so uncomplicated that most of us never bother to practice it. It is a simple yet beautiful word and action… it is simply …Gratitude.

The world revolves at just the right speed the sun rises to greet us each day without us asking and the moon lights our way through night and provides the tidal cycles that are so important to the earth and its climate. Our environment is enriched with air which freely allows us to breath with most of us never understanding how this combination of  21% oxygen,  78% nitrogen and 1% other gasses formed to provide the most essential element that keeps us alive. The earth spins and night turns to day. While nature and the seasons work in harmony to provide us with food and water to keep us alive and colour to bring us joy. Our bodies work like a vast industrial complex pumping blood and fluid around our vessels , regulating temperature, blood pressure and our heart rate while manufacturing skin, hair and new cells whilst repairing what is out of balance…..it’s just amazing.

We turn on taps and clean water flows through them when others lie thirsty. We jump in the shower and we have instant hot water when so many in this world have never experienced the cleansing of a warm shower. We cool food in fridges and cook meals in ovens  from food on our tables as others go hungry. We have roofs over our heads and blankets on our bed when so many in this world are homeless. With health in our hearts we can run, jump feel the wind and sun on our faces when so many will never know what is to be able to walk or run. Swim in the sea and feel the waves wash over our faces when so many have never even had the ability to dip a toe or hand into or even stood and witnessed the might and beauty of the ocean. We are surrounded by radiant colours that change with seasons and beautifully dance with the rays from our Sun when so many have never been given the gift of sight.  We dance and hear music that lifts our moods and soundtracks our lives when so many have never experienced what it is to feel or hear that joy. We share touches with hugs and sneak kisses with lovers when so many would love to know what the warmth and love and caress from another human feels like…just once. We have friends that enjoy our company who revel in our smiles and share in our laughs when others have no one….not a single hand to hold. We can feel our heart sing as we express what we truly believe to be right when so many are too afraid or never allowed to speak out…………

We live on a dot spinning at 167o kms an hour surrounded by infinity and consisting of miracles. It is, a gift to be a part of this incredible world.

So what ever falls your way today… remember all the gifts that have been given to you, that so many others on this tiny dot we call “Earth” never get to experience… and simply or silently say

” Thank You “.

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