Friday Two Cents: No More Sharing, Delaying Gratification


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This past week I experienced a valuable lesson about sharing. Those of you who have children or teach young children would recognize this scenario.

I was supplying in a classroom this past week where the students knew me from previous visits. I noticed that during learning centres many of the boys would play with the Duplo blocks like so many students in countless classrooms. Yet in this case I had a student (A) come up to me saying that another student (B) was not sharing the blocks. I went over to B to see if this was the case and I asked him his side of the story. It turned out that the A wanted the blocks B was playing with. I said, “When B was finished with the blocks you can have them.” Student A said he wanted the blocks now. I restated my response adding, “Do you want me to take those blocks away from him and given them to you?” He said yes. I was a little surprised at the response but I said no you have to wait for them. He looked at me as if to say ‘WHAT wait are you crazy?’ He insisted that he wanted them.
I then asked him, “If B wanted your blocks that you were playing with would you like it if I took them from you and gave it to him?” He said no and then I asked how would he feel if that happened? He said he would be sad. Therefore do you want him to feel that way now? He said no, half-heartedly and he went back to the blocks but I continued to observe him and the others. I was surprised that A continued to tell B that he wanted his blocks, but B said no.
In the end it got to a point where student B had to come to me and say that A was bothering him about the blocks. I told B to play on the other side of the carpet and told A to please leave him alone and give him some personal space. That was the end of it but I was very troubled by A’s reaction that it reminded me about an article about sharing I had recently read.
In the article, the students learned that if they want something all they have to do is say that someone is not sharing and the adult (parent or teacher) will step in and force the other student to give up the toy, either within 5 minutes or right away. This teaches the student that if they want something they complain and get what they want, instant gratification. Yet if the student comes to you and we say you can have the toy after the other child is done, that provides a delayed gratification effect that the students are not used to.

Instant gratification vs. delayed gratification

Today everything is instant gratification. They want something, they get it, or if they are asked to do something there must be a reward in the end right away. The same was with student A. He wanted something and wanted instant gratification for his complaining by getting the blocks. By providing an opportunity for a delayed gratification he was not happy with the outcome, (he did get to play with the blocks after B was finished), this may have helped him in the long run. Study after study have shown the benefits to children who have learned delayed gratification.
One famous experiment by Stanford professor named Walter Mischel sheds light on this subject matter. In the experiment a child is placed in a room, sitting on a chair and a marshmallow is placed on the table in front of them. The researcher offered a deal to the child. He told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow. The choice was simple: get one treat right now or two treats later. He left the room for 15 minutes.

The Marshmallow Test

The footage of the children waiting alone in the room was very entertaining to say the least. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time. The study was done in 1972 but the interesting thing is what comes later.
The researchers followed the children and what they found was surprising. The children who were willing to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life lessons. They continued to follow each child for more than 40 years and time and time again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever task they were engaged in.
Therefore, you could say that by teaching the students to not share or wait for their gratification, we are doing them a serves.
You can see a version of the experience and the children’s reactions on YouTube.

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