The Patience Game

Until recently, we have been blessed with a pretty well behaved toddler. Our “terrible two’s” were not terrible at all. I remember when we lived in Manhattan one of the moms at the park telling me that the new lingo is “terrible two’s, tantrumy three’s.” While we may have been lucky enough to forego the terrible two’s, it appears the “tantrumy three’s” have hit us full force this week!

Oh my goodness!

This morning, Shaan was throwing another one of his tantrums (this one occurred after potty time when he was washing his hands). When I said it was time to stop and that his hands were all clean (and that we could wash them the next time we pottied), all {{{you know what}}} broke loose! Complete meltdown!

It occurred to me this morning that all of his tantrums have occurred because he lacks any sort of concept of patience, or delayed gratification. When he wants something, he wants it N-O-W! Telling him that he can do it later, or another time, (or not at all, depending on what it is) means absolutely nothing to him. He just cries.

He has no self-control.

So, I had an “aha” moment this morning and was reminded of an article I read in The New Yorker a while back (regarding kids and self-control, and how kids who measured well on this “marshmallow test” taken when they were 4 years old were much more successful in life than those who did not fare well on the test). In general, the article was attributing a child’s ability to “self-control” as a predictor of a child’s future “success.” The article is very intriguing – ¬†you can check it out here:

So, the “marshmallow test” involved placing one marshmallow (or other piece of candy) in front of a four year old and telling them that the adult was going to leave the room and return in a few minutes. If the child ate the marshmallow before the adult returned, that was all they received. If, however, the child was able to wait until the adult returned without eating the marshmallow, the adult would give him/her two pieces to eat (as opposed to just the one sitting in front of them).

After Shaan finally calmed down from his tantrum this morning, I decided to do a little experiment. My husband and I have often told him that it’s important to be patient, that it’s good to be patient, that we need to be patient, that “patience is a virtue” (yada, yada, yada), but I realized today that he doesn’t really know or understand what patience is. So, when he was calm, I explained to him that I wanted to show him the benefits of being patient. I explained that mommy or daddy say “no” sometimes because we know that things will be better if we just wait and are patient.

Then, I basically performed the marshmallow test on my child.

The first time (this morning) he totally flunked as he ate the marshmallow before I had even finished explaining the rules! Guess we’re stuck with the baggage of an “unsuccessful child,” according to the world’s standards! :)

The second time (this morning) I placed a jelly bean in front of him, and came back a minute later and the jelly bean was still there. Yay!

This evening, we played “the patience game” again, and he made it FIVE entire minutes with an M&M in front of him! I know that had to be hard on the little guy – chocolate is his absolute favorite!!!!

So, long story short, I’m not convinced that a “one-off” test of whether or not a child eats or denies him/herself a piece of candy for a few minutes will direct his/her direction later in life, but I have found that “the marshmallow test” is a good way to practice cultivating self-control and patience in my 3 year old in a non-frustrating, fun way. The game also allows us to discuss self-control and discipline (and the importance of these characteristics) in a calm, exciting manner (as opposed to it only being brought up when he is in the act of displaying his lack of self-control and lack of discipline).

After only one day, I’m kinda a fan of “the patience game.”

In my last blog post, I briefly mentioned I had started reading up on Charlotte Mason after a friend mentioned that my vision for Shepherd My Child seemed very similar to the approach Charlotte Mason endorsed for child education. The Charlotte Mason method is three-pronged, focusing on education as 1) an Atmosphere, 2) a Discipline, and 3) a Life.

“The Patience Game” (aka “marshmallow test”) falls nicely into her category of “Discipline.” By “discipline,” Miss Mason meant the discipline of good habits – and specifically habits of character. Miss Mason believed that cultivating good habits in a child’s life should make up about a third of his/her education.

Now I know that playing a “patience game” or following some suggestions set forth by Charlotte Mason won’t, by any means, guarantee that my child will be a patient, self-controlled, character-filled Christian later on in life. I am calling out to the Lord for His mercy as it relates to my son’s salvation and grace for him to be able to “walk in the newness of the resurrection” (which would produce the “fruit of the Spirit” resulting in patience, self-control, etc.)

But I do believe that part of my responsibility as his parent is to teach him discipline. And I do it because I love him. Just as the Father loves (and disciplines) me.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father a son he delights in.” – Proverbs 3:11-12

“For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.” – Proverbs 6:23




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