The Marshmallow Test is one of the most famous experiments in Psychology: Dr. Walter Mischel and his colleagues presented a preschooler with a marshmallow. The child was told that the researcher had to leave the room for a period of time and the child could either wait until the researcher returned and have two marshmallows, or if the child couldn’t wait, they could call the researcher back by ringing a bell and just have one marshmallow. The idea was to figure how delayed gratification develops, and, in later studies, understand its importance in our children’s lives and academic success.
We’ve all been there.
Your preschooler wakes up in a foul mood (don’t we all, every once in a while?), and starts crying before she even gets out of bed. Nothing you do can make it right: she doesn’t want the same thing she has for breakfast every morning; she can’t choose something she does want; she hits her brother; she collapses in a sobbing heap on the floor.
Or maybe your “witching hour” comes later in the day, after school or at bedtime: he doesn’t WANT to go in the bath. He doesn’t want a bath with bubbles OR without bubbles. He refuses to brush his teeth, with either bubblegum OR strawberry toothpaste.
Toddlers have tantrums, and to some extent we just need to be supportive and get through them because they don’t really have the mental skills or vocabulary to express what they need. But by the time your child is about three, some new abilities start to open up that create enormous opportunities for you. They are able to think about more than one way to do something, and their vocabularies are expanding so they can begin to express these new ideas.
They probably aren’t yet fully able to regulate their own emotions, which is why they still have these occasional tantrums. But what if there was a way to use some of their new skills to avoid tantrums in the first place?
The good news: there is!
The bad news: this method does require you to go through one tantrum to figure it out. But isn’t that a small price to pay?
The best news is that this method is most powerful for the types of tantrums that are related to issues you face repeatedly related to their ideas about how things should work in your house (like whether it’s OK to eat ice cream right before bed). You may still get the ones that result from being over-tired or hungry/hangry, but you already know the fix for those ones…
You all know that on the show we pretty much steer clear of the clickbait articles that try to convince you that something is wrong with your child, in favor of getting a balanced view of the overall body of literature on a topic.
But every once in a while a study comes along and I think “we really MUST learn more about that, even though it muddies the water a bit and leads us more toward confusion than a clear picture.”
This is one of those studies. We’ll learn about the original Hart & Risley study that identified the “30 Million Word Gap” that so much policy has been based on since then, and what are the holes in that research (e.g. did you know that SIX African American families on welfare in that study are used as proxies for all poor families in the U.S., only 25% of whom are African American?).
Then, Dr. Doug Sperry will tell us about his research, which leads him to believe that overheard language can also make a meaningful contribution to children’s vocabulary development.
I do want to be 100% clear on one point: Dr. Sperry says very clearly that he believes parents speaking with children is important for their development; just that overheard language can contribute as well.
And this is not Dr. Sperry out on his own criticizing research that everyone else agrees with: if you’re interested, there are a host of other issues listed here.
The overarching problem, of course, is that our school system is so inflexible that linguistic skills – even really incredible ones of the type we discussed in our recent episode on storytelling – have no place in the classroom if they don’t mesh with the way that White, middle-class families (and, by extension, teachers and students) communicate.
But that will have to be an episode for another day.
One of the most-often asked questions in parenting groups that I’m in is “My child WILL NOT let me brush his/her teeth. How can I get through this?”
Oh my goodness; I feel your pain.
We went through this too when my daughter was about 15 months old, and it persisted for several weeks on and off before we finally figured it out.
I would say “OK, it’s time to brush your teeth!” and she’d say “NOOOOOO! I don’t wanna!” and collapse in a writhing heap on the floor.
“Storytelling? I’m already reading books to my child – isn’t that enough?”
Your child DOES get a lot out of reading books (which is why we’ve done a several episodes on that already, including What children learn from reading books, How to read with your child, and Did you already miss the boat on teaching your toddler how to read?.
But it turns out that storytelling benefits our relationship with our child in ways that reading books really can’t, because you’re looking at the book rather than at your child. If you ask your child what kind of story they’d like you to tell, you also get incredible insight into both their interests and concerns – I can attest to this, as I’ve been singing story-songs about poop and various kinds of baby animals who can’t find their mamas on and off for several weeks now (we had an incident a few months back where she couldn’t find me in a store).
In this episode we also discuss the ways that people from different cultures tell stories, and what implications this has for them as they interact with our education system.
Other episodes mentioned in this show: