By: Vicki Bohling
When my kids were toddlers, a firm “no” to a cookie before dinner could elicit a full-blown tantrum. We’d rub our foreheads and wonder how long we’d have to wait for this phase to pass. A year later, we could hardly remember the horrible tantrums that came from our well-spoken, well-mannered preschooler. Back then it seemed like we were waiting an eternity for the phase to pass, and we would have never imagined all the changes that only a year could bring in our child’s development.
Now, fast forward a few years. When our 16-year-old son asks to drive three friends to an out-of-town mall – at night – we say “no” and he stomps, and he shouts, and he slams the door to his bedroom. Yet, we continue to rub our foreheads and wonder how long we have to wait for this phase to pass…
So, wouldn’t it be easier to just give up and give in? It would seem so. Throughout the years, sticking to what we say has gotten so hard! There’s so much drama in every encounter, and so much to potentially say “no” to.
Well, if there’s only one thing I’ve learned about parenting after all these years, it’s that the easiest way to parent isn’t always the best way. But, I’ve also learned that there are essentially two universal truths to parenting that every parent should own, accept, and practice every day—no matter what age, stage, phase, or season of parenting you may be weathering.
1. Parenting is hard. Someone wise once told me that in most parenting situations there’s an easy way to do things and a hard way to do things, and the hard way (usually the most time consuming, most inconvenient, and most emotionally taxing) is almost always the best way, in the long run.
2. Good things come to those who wait. Both research and experience have shown me that parenting is a practice in delayed gratification. It can take a long time to see results, but when we set limits and expect our kids to also work hard and wait for good things, we are giving them a lifetime gift. We’ve learned from research on human behavior that delayed gratification can be a contributing key to success and happiness in life, as results of the famous “Marshmallow Test” have suggested. We all also know (from experience) that waiting is the hard part!
Check out the famous “Marshmallow Test” in the video below:
The brain development expert in the video above is Dr. David Walsh, and in his book, No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It, he describes the rub between the unglamorous work and crock pot pace of good parenting, and a surrounding culture that promotes More, Easy, Fast, and Fun. Think about it; when we live with instant messaging, fast food, big box stores and super-sized portions it’s easy to feel entitled to what we want when we want it. Trust me; I love my microwave and my high-speed internet access as much as the next person, but parenting is different. When we raise children with a sense of entitlement, we set them up for a lifetime of dependency. We deny them the pride of earning something they worked hard for and the joy of being self-sufficient and content with what they have. According to David Walsh, saying “yes” and giving in may make life quieter and easier, but in the long run it’s better to hold firm and keep expectations high. Walsh says, “There is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure, but a child who never learns to manage his pleasure drive will be controlled by it.”
And those kids in the Marshmallow Test? In the original 1960’s study, the kids who were able to wait for the second marshmallow as preschoolers ended up being happier, had more school success, and had fewer behavior problems when they became young adults. Waiting is hard, but waiting is good.
So, parents, next time we’re wavering about saying “no” to our kids, let’s remember the research, and stick to our guns. Knowing that we’re all in it together— as we continue to wait, and wait— helps us even more eagerly anticipate the arrival of the day where we (and our kids) will have the luxury of seeing it all so clearly in the rear-view mirror.__________________________________________________________________________________________________
1. David Walsh, Ph.D, No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It, 2007, Free Press Publishing.
2. Image via benjaminasmith on Flick'r.