Monday, February 21, 2011

"Mommy, Can We Pleeeease Delay Our Gratification?"

In my earlier parenting days, I heard about the Marshmallow Test. In the 60's, a guy named Walter Mischel at Stanford conducted a study of a bunch of four year-olds. He gave each child a marshmallow with the instructions that they could eat the marshmallow right away if they wanted to. But, if they could wait to eat it 20 minutes until he returned, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. He followed up with the kids many years later and determined those who had delayed their gratification as children wound up with better SAT scores and healthier friendships, and were generally all around better people.

This notion of delayed gratification has been on my mind ever since. I personally wonder if there isn't a little chicken-and-egg behind the results (i.e., the kids who delayed gratification were generally more patient or followed directions well or had an inherent motivation that helped them both wait for the marshmallow and study extra hard for the SATs). Regardless, I often try to get my kids in the practice of delaying gratification because, well, good things often do come to those who learn how to wait for them.

That's one reason I occasionally do multi-step projects with my kids. They teach kids patience and perseverance. And besides, sometimes a decent project simply can't be finished to museum-quality standards in half an hour.

After a bender at A.C. Moore, I had a bunch of supplies to make magic wands. Wood that needs to be primed, painted, and painted again on the other side, is a great base for a delayed-gratification project. Over the course of several days, I primed, then the kids did two rounds of painting. After that was all dry, I attached ribbons to the star wand with a staple gun and glued wooden star cut-outs on top. Finally, I gave the kids free reign with a package of self-adhesive rhinestones.

Almost every day my kids begged,  "When will the wands be done? When can we play with them?" I placated them by listing the average SAT scores for students accepted into Ivy League schools.

But finally, the day came when the wands were done. And they were magical.

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