Delaying gratification and other benefits of waiting for Christmas.
By Sabrina Connell | Twitter: @sabrinaconnell
My husband and are at odds when it comes to our desires for celebrating Christmas in a way we each find meaningful. The sight of presents spilling out from under a tree is enough to nauseate him. He’d rather celebrate in as austere a manner as possible–reverently, of course–echoing the simplicity that surrounded the birth of Jesus.
I, on the other hand, find deep meaning in the presents. Not necessarily in the giving and receiving of presents, but, rather, in the waiting and anticipation of giving and receiving them. I love watching our children pace anxiously around the tree each morning, silently taking inventory of the treasures they eagerly wait to claim. I love listening to them strategize the order in which they’ll open them. Our daughter, nearly eight years old, describes the anticipation as an ache that fills her chest.
“Hold on to that feeling, sweetie. Embrace the wait. That anticipation is what you’re supposed to feel. It’s the same feeling the wise men felt as they followed the star. You’re in good company.”
Advent is a season of anticipation. Learning to wait and sit with anticipation are important skills for children to develop. Such skills are central to the discipline of self control.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, temperament and parenting work together to jointly influence the extent to which self-control develops. Granted, some children are biologically more impulsive than others, but regardless of temperament, children who experience parental warmth and gentle encouragement are more likely to develop self-control, because such parenting models patient, non-impulsive behavior. When parents are highly power-assertive and exercise inconsistent discipline or structure, children’s abilities to manage their impulses develops poorly or may even fail to function. The more opportunities children have to wait with anticipation and the more their parents provide gentle coaching and strategies for managing the wait, the more likely they are to develop self-regulatory skills that can lead them successfully in the future.
Researchers who study the development of self-control typically create laboratory situations in which children are offered a treat of some kind and are given two options: 1. Eat the marshmallow when the researcher leaves the room or 2. Leave the marshmallow uneaten until the researcher returns and then earn an additional marshmallow for waiting. For a peek at how different children behave in this type of experiment, check out this adorable video:
Researchers found that preschoolers who were better able to delay gratification (wait for the second marshmallow rather than gobbling up the one) matured into adolescents that were more responsive to reason, better at concentrating and planning ahead, better at managing stress, and even scored higher on their SATs than their less-impulsive counterparts.
Pacing around a Christmas tree for 25 days and living with that chest-about-to-burst-with-excitement feeling for so long, helps to develop some measure of discipline. I’d like to think it helps exercise the mental and emotional muscles our kids would need to hold out for that second marshmallow. I love to think of our kids on Christmas morning, restless hearts pounding as they bound out of bed and race to our room, eager to enjoy the spoils of the holiday. I love to think how those same emotions can transfer to their own understanding of what it means to wait for and celebrate the arrival of Jesus. I love to think of how I can find more meaningful moments for them to experience a similar joyful anticipation beyond the holiday season.
I often look to Fred Rogers (beloved host of the show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) for parenting (or really just living) wisdom and came across this gem of a quote this week:
“I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending.” ― Fred Rogers
So, my SheLoves sisters, I’d love to hear:
- How do you rekindle that feeling of waiting and anticipation for your children throughout the year?
- What types of strategies to you use to help your children endure moments of waiting?
- How have you helped them delay their own gratification?
An artist-turned-academic, Sabrina spends her days navigating between a wide variety of roles including that of mother, wife, graduate student, researcher and daydreamer. She is currently a doctoral student in the Communication Studies program at Northwestern University where she researches the various ways in which children and parents engage media and technology and the potential effects these interactions might have on the development of children. Prior to her time at Northwestern, Sabrina earned a Master’s degree in child development from Tufts University, as well as a Master of Arts in puppetry from the University of Connecticut. She has a passion for all things involving play, whimsy and the art of nurturing.