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How Kids can Learn to Resist Temptation…and Why They Need to

The Famous Marshmallow Test and Implications for Our Kids’ Later Success

In 1960, Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Stanford University, conducted the now famous Marshmallow Test. Mischel challenged a group of four-year-olds: Did they want a marshmallow immediately, or could they wait a few minutes until a researcher returned, at which point they could have two marshmallows? Mischel’s researchers then followed up on the children upon their high school graduation and found that those who had been able to wait for those marshmallows years before at age four now were far more socially competent: they were found to be more personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to deal with the frustrations of life. The third who waited longest also had significantly higher SAT scores by an average of two hundred points of the total verbal and math scores combined than the teens who, at age four, couldn’t wait. Those results clearly revealed the importance of helping kids develop the ability to cope with behavioral impulses and learn self-control.

Mischel, who is now a professor at Columbia, and a team of researchers are still tracking those four-year olds. Hundreds of hours of observations have been conducted over the years on the participants. At first researchers figured that the children’s ability to wait just depended upon how badly they wanted the marshmallow. But it became apparent that every kid wanted the treat. Mischel now concludes that something else was helping those kids put on the brakes so they could delay their desire. The finding is a critical secret to success and here it is:

Those kids who were able to hold off and not eat the initial marshmallow had learned a crucial skill that helped them do so.

The researcher calls that waiting ability “Strategic Allocation of Attention.” Jonah Lehrer described the self-control skill in an enlightening article entitled, “Don’t!: The Secret of Self-Control” (which I strongly recommend you read).

Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

That finding has enormous ramifications for our children’s social, academic and even moral success.

Why We Can – and Must – Teach Our Kids to Delay Gratification

But here’s the good news: Mischel and his colleagues believe that parents and teachers may be able to teach children skills that help them learn how to delay gratification and stretch their patience quotients. As Lehrer explains in that The New Yorker article:

When he [Mishcel] and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes.

“All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

Meanwhile research is currently under way in classrooms in which teachers are teaching students “waiting” skills and the preliminary results are promising. The real challenge will be to see if those newly-learned waiting skills can be turned into life-long habits–especially in this N.O.W. culture in which our kids have learned to expect instant gratification and reward, ASAP.

The findings of this research are too critical to overlook. Our first step is to start looking for those countless little everyday moments we can use to help our kids learn to put on the brakes. There are dozens of opportunities. Best ideas are always simple and can be used everywhere (at the grocery store, in the car, at Grandma’s in the classroom, on the soccer field). And then once you find one that works for you, use it over and over and over until it becomes a habit. Here are a few from Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.

1. Change the focus

Mischel found the more abstractly kids thought about the marshmallow, the longer they could delay. Teach one of these tips: “Focus on the least appealing part of the distractor.” “Don’t think about the taste but focus on its shape or color.” “Put a frame around the distractor in your head, like a real picture.” (Those kids could wait almost eighteen minutes!)

2. Use mental diversions

Temptations can rob kids’ focusing abilities and decrease attention spans. Mischel  discovered that when he taught kids easy mental tricks, their focus and self-control improved substantially. The trick is not to think about how delicious that marshmallow is but learn a distraction diverter…

  • Ask your child: “What will be the hardest part?” or “What’s the toughest thing to control? or “What would tempt you most?”
  • Temptations could be “Playing Fortnite instead of doing homework,” “Eating cake instead of dinner” or “Shooting baskets instead of doing my chores.” (Then hide the temptation!).
  • For younger kids you simply divert their attention. “Look at that bird on the tree!” “Count the number of peas on your plate!” “How many things can you find that start with a “B” in the room?

3. Stretch waiting time

Mary Budd Rowe, a noted educator, discovered that children need “wait time”—more time to think about what they hear—before speaking. So whenever you ask a question or give a request, remember to wait at least three seconds for your child to think about what she heard. The child will absorb more information, be more likely to respond, and probably give a  fuller answer. That also means that during those three seconds you need to wait patiently, and continue to give your kid your full presence. Just to see how well you’re doing, the next time you ask your child a question, time yourself: How many seconds are you waiting until you get impatient for her immediate response? Stretch your waiting time.

Your child may barrel straight into every task right now, but your ultimate goal is to gradually stretch his ability to control those impulses and learn to wait at his level. Start by timing how long your child can pause before those impulses get the best of him. Take that time as his “waiting ability” -and then slowly increase it over the next weeks and months.

  • “Wait just a minute, Sweetie. Mom is on the phone.”
  • “I know you want a cookie, but you’ll have to wait ten minutes.”
  • “Sorry. We’re going to open presents after we have our dinner.”
  • “Nope. You get your allowance on Saturday. No loans until then.”

The secret is set your waiting expectations a bit longer than your child’s current waiting ability and then slowly stretch it without snapping it or giving in. (Think of a rubber band: “Stretch but don’t snap.”)

4. Play waiting games

Research shows that what a child learns to say to himself (or “self-instruction”) during  the moments of temptation is a significant determiner of whether he is able to say no to impulsive  urges and/or wait. Keep in mind that those kids who were able to hold off and not eat the  marshmallows usually had learned a skill to help delay those urges.  Here are six strategies from  that help kids control impulses. Choose the one that works best for your child  and then practice, practice, practice together until that new habit kicks in and he can use when he feels those impulses taking over.

  • Freeze. In a calm voice say this to your child: “Freeze. Don’t move until you can get back in control.”
  • Use a phrase. Have him slowly say a phrase like “One Mississippi, two Mississippi.”
  • Hold your breath. Tell your kid not to breathe as long as possible and then to take a few long, deep breaths. (Just make sure he remembers to breathe!)
  • Count. Join your child in slowly counting from on to twenty (or fewer with a younger kid).
  • Sing. For a young child, ask him to pick his favorite tune, such as “Frere Jacques” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and hum a few bars.
  • Watch. Have him look at his wristwatch and count set numbers of seconds (such as ten). Expand that number to what is appropriate to the child.

Of course, don’t stop here. There are dozens of ways to teach your child to wait. The key is to find a strategy that works for your child, and then keep rehearsing it until your child can use it without you. A couple of weeks ago I encountered a mom and her four year old utilizing a great “waiting game” strategy. It was in the woman’s restroom of the Denver Airport with one long line (not the thing any young child needing to use that the bathroom wants to see). Her mom took one look at the line, rolled her eyes and then calmly turned to her daughter. “Boy, looks like a bit of a wait, so we’ll have to stand in line. Meanwhile why don’t you sign the “Birthday Song” about three times and I bet it’ll then be your turn.” That little girl’s impatience quickly morphed into singing a tune of the song. Half the line of women joined in to accompany the tune and her mother was right. At the end of the third chorus, she was at the front of the line. Smart Mom!

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

Carbon Monoxide is a Silent Killer…How to Keep Your Family Safe

As the winter months rapidly approach and the cold starts to set in, It is inevitable that people will start to break out the heaters.  It is around this time of year that you will start to see an increase in the number of Carbon Monoxide stories in the news and especially in the hospitals.  It’s the Carbon Monoxide I would like to talk about today.

What is Carbon Monoxide and how can I tell where it is?

Carbon Monoxide or CO, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is created from unburned Fuel Sources such as gas, oil or coal. So any appliance that uses fuel can create carbon monoxide.  Heaters, Furnaces, Dryers, Cars, Fire Places, Chimneys, Generators, Barbecues, etc.. all have the ability to create carbon monoxide.  Please make sure that any fuel burning item in your home has been properly installed and sealed, and that all manufacturer instructions for doing so have been followed.

Items that use electricity do not burn a fuel and do not emit carbon monoxide.  While these items may pose a significant risk of fire when used improperly or left unattended, they do not burn fuel and do not pose a risk of Carbon Monoxide.

Common Locations of Carbon Monoxide:

  • Automobile Garage – Cars warming up or left running in a garage will cause a build-up of Carbon Monoxide.
  • Laundry Room – Laundry machines that run on natural gas or propane can emit propane.
  • Basement – Furnaces and Heaters located in a basement or enclosed area can cause a build-up of Carbon Monoxide.
  • Kitchen – Gas Appliances like ovens can emit Carbon Monoxide.
  • Bedroom – Fuel burning heaters such as gas lamps and heaters can emit Carbon Monoxide.

What are the Signs of CO Poisoning?

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty Breathing.

How Can I Detect CO In My Home?

While CO is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas it can be detected with Carbon Monoxide monitors that can be bought at many stores.  Things to know about CO detectors before you purchase:

  • CO detectors come in many sizes.
  • CO detectors are NOT all the same. Some detect non-lethal low levels of CO while others only detect potentially lethal high levels of CO.   Please read the package on the detector you purchase.
  • Some can be hardwired to your house alarm system and some use batteries AA or 9volt batteries.

Where In My Home Should I Place CO Detectors?

  • CO detectors should be placed in areas of the house you spend the most time in. The living room, Family Room areas are great places to put them and they should also be placed outside the bedroom areas to alert occupants Before it reaches the bedrooms.
  • CO detectors should not be placed next to or near items that emit a lot of heat as it may cause the device to malfunction. As always, please read and follow the instructions on whichever device you purchase.

What should I do if my CO detector is activated OR someone in my home begins to have the symptoms of CO poisoning?

  • If the detector is activated you should immediately open doors and windows and go outside.
  • Once outside, assess to see if anyone is having symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • If anyone is having symptoms CALL 911 AND Follow the instructions they give you.
  • If the alarm continues to sound call 911 and let the fire department clear the home.

For more information on Carbon monoxide you can contact the following:

  • Your local Fire Department
  • Underwriter Laboratories – 1-847-272-8800
  • Utility Companies in your area. The Gas company for example.

As always, I urge everyone to err on the side of caution and CALL 911 if any concern exists about CO in your home. Please be safe and use your items carefully. Here in South Florida during hurricane Irma there were fatalities due to CO because people ran generators and motors inside of their homes while they slept and succumb to CO poisoning.  Always run motors and any fuel burning device in an opened, ventilated area!

Be Safe and stay warm.

Should Kids “Motor Mouth”? (do they need an electric toothbrush?)

Has your dentist recommended an electric toothbrush for your child?

Why spend the money? You didn’t have one and turned out just fine, right? Well you may not have had a car seat as a child either but does that mean it was right?

Clinical research shows that electric toothbrushes are far superior to manual brushing when it comes to removing plaque and preventing gum disease. Children who lack the understanding of proper brushing or the motor skills necessary to do so are given a much more effective way to maintain good dental health. It is important to instill the behavior of good oral hygiene habits early to promote a life long understanding. Your child may begin with an electric toothbrush as soon as he/she is able to hold it steady and firmly.

Starting your child with a basic, colorful electric toothbrush is recommended.

There is an assortment of toothbrushes with your child’s favorite characters or princesses available that will help encourage use. If your child already uses a manual toothbrush, they may not be interested in the switch. Any brushing is better than none so if the transition doesn’t go well, you can always try again later.

Of the many electric toothbrushes, there are also many features offered and the cost can vary from $15-$200. It is important to choose a brush that is age appropriate in size and speed. Electric toothbrushes with a timer and include a melody and/or light up make for a more fun brushing experience. Of the higher end models, such as Sonicare and Rotadent, you are actually able to provide a much more cost-effective way to provide electric tooth brushing to your entire family. With these systems, your family can share the handle and just replace the head (or brush) with their own when it’s time to brush. These systems have different speeds, different types and sizes of brush heads ensuring that everyone in the family can brush correctly and safely. These higher end electric toothbrushes also come with warranties and can be repaired or replaced in the event of malfunction.

The best benefit to electric toothbrushes, as a parent, is the peace of mind that our children are creating and maintaining good dental habits.

Since an electric toothbrush does a better job of cleaning your child’s teeth, this eliminates the need for you to step in and finish the job. I don’t know about you but I’m all for improved dental health, preventing gum disease and whiter, healthier teeth with less work!

Is it Safe to Wiggle a Loose Baby Tooth?

My daughter Katie’s first baby tooth came out in a spoonful of Nutella. And she lost the second one backstage at a play when she bumped a chair against her mouth by accident. She had gauze in her mouth until seconds before she had to perform.

By the time the third tooth got loose, she was pretty brazen about it. She wiggled it. She let kids at school wiggle it. And I worried whether all that twisting and turning would make the tooth come out before it was ready, so I asked her to leave it alone and let nature take its course. The tooth fairy did visit, and she has visited a couple of more times since then.

But since Katie has 12 more of her 20 baby teeth to lose, I knew this issue would come up again. So I called Rhea Haugseth, dentist and president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, for some advice.

“My daughter is obsessed with wiggling a loose tooth. Is that helpful or harmful?” I asked.

“Most kids can’t resist,” said Haugseth, assuring me that Katie’s behavior is normal. “It’s fine to go after it. It’s actually even good.”

Haugseth explained that even wiggling a baby tooth wouldn’t make it come out before it’s ready. “By the time a child feels that a tooth is loose, the roots of the baby tooth have dissolved and only the gum tissue is holding it in its place,” she said. “In fact, if it’s left in there too long – because some children may be scared to wiggle it – the surrounding gums can get inflamed and irritated. That’s when parents call me.”

“So what do you recommend if a child is scared to wiggle her tooth?”

“I tell moms to accidentally bump into it when they’re helping their child brush their teeth,” she says. “And if that doesn’t work, a conversation about what the tooth fairy might bring works wonders.”

It’s Fall: What Can I Expect As Far As My Child’s Allergies?

fall allergies - runny noses and itchy eyesWe are currently in the middle of the allergy season created by ragweed. We had thought we had made it through the spring and summer allergy season with our immune system health in good shape when all of a sudden it seems to return with a vengeance: watery, itchy eyes, constantly clear runny itchy nose, clearing your throat and trying in vain to scratch the back part of your palate with the back of your tongue. Here we are again, but in the spring/ summer seasons this was due to trees and grass. Every season has its own list of usual suspects to create allergy symptoms.

The end of summer and beginning of fall sees the end of the ragweed season and the onset of more indoor things to spark the symptoms of allergy. When families start to close up their homes for the colder weather to come, many allergens are trapped indoors such as molds and dust. Many people are allergic to just these factors, made worse by the onset of school and the ability of children to begin bring home the “bug of the week”. Colds become more frequent and the onset of asthmatic symptoms add to the coughs, runny noses and itchiness, along with such factors as spending more time indoors with your furry pets. The leaves are beginning to fall and the wind is beginning to whip the leaves around and fragment them causing a different kind of dust.

Added to that, as families begin to turn the heat on in their homes, two things happen; all the dust that has collected in the ducts now is blown into the indoor environment to mix with all the other allergens and the indoor air begins to dry out. This potpourri of particles is just about everywhere, just waiting to irritate your respiratory tract if you happen to have allergies.

The symptoms of allergic problems do not necessarily change with the seasons and probably the same medications your Doctor recommended in the Spring will also be effective, but if you have difficulty controlling the problem, get in touch with your healthcare provider – they can help you make sure your children are not bothered with these symptoms in school.

5 Things Not to Say to Your Tween Daughter

The tween years are all about developing a positive self-image, good decision-making, healthy self-discipline and better mood regulation. What you say to your tween and how you use your nonverbal language to communicate with her may have a lasting impact on her view of herself. As conflicts arise you might find yourself blurting things out that you wish you could take back. Reflect on some common parent-daughter foibles to help yourself stay on the path to positive communication with your tween.

If you catch yourself being judgmental or shaming breathe through it, after reading these five things not to say to your tween, you’ll make better choices next time.

“Your dad noticed.” Tweens can be nervous about what other people see and notice about them, especially their dads. The father-daughter relationship is an important one. Your tween’s first line of dealing with boys who become men is in the relationship between father and daughter. If a tween’s dad is going to notice things about a tween, it’s time for him to speak directly to her. The tween years can feel uncomfortable to a dad, at times. Help your husband to talk openly with your tween about her relationships, her body and her friendships. The more comfortable dad is the more comfortable your tween will be.

“I don’t like that friend.” The tween years are a time when children move from practicing in their relationships to making choices about whom to befriend and who to avoid. If you feel your tween could be making better choices in her friendships help her to identify what makes a good friend. Talk with her about what kinds of friendships make her feel happy, safe and “lifted up.” Open-ended questions that allow self-reflection and not self-judgment such as “How do you like your friends to talk with you?” and “When you share something private with a friend, what are you hoping she does with that information?” will help your tween to develop the skills to observe and reflect on her relationships and improve her decision-making skills.

“You’re too young to like a boy.” With the changes occurring in a tween’s body and brain, developing attraction to boys is a natural process. Often in fourth and fifth grade tweens begin to notice boys. Having crushes can be expected, although not required. Instead of telling your tween how she is allowed to feel guide her to develop attractions that are based on honesty, caring and compatibility. Part of the growing communications with her girlfriends will be drawing comparisons about whom they like. Encourage the freedom to feel differently than her friends without making the object of their affection out to be a “bad guy”. Discussing what they like in boys and what they do not like is the beginning of sorting out whom they will date in high school and college. The tween years are when you lay the groundwork for healthy choices and good decision making about courting behavior. Open communication is the first line to healthy decision-making and problem solving.

“I never want to hear you say that again!” As your tween begins to define herself as a person independent of how you think and feel, she’s going to say things you wish had not come out of her mouth. Instead of being directive and setting up a control struggle wonder aloud about what she meant and help her to understand that what she says in the world reflects on whom she is inside. Gentle direction will win almost every time over bossy intimidation.

“You’d be beautiful if…” You were a tween once. How did it feel when others told you to lose weight, hide your big ears or wear different clothing? Research shows that the developing self-image of a tween persists through adulthood. So help your tween love herself as she is. If she needs to get more exercise, to eat better or choose less revealing clothes, show her the path to success with loving guidance not shameful embarrassment.

Hey mom, you might be new to this whole ‘tween-thing’, your tween is as well, so open-up, talk it out and seek advice from friends you trust. You’ll get the hang of it, just as your tween will.