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10 Ways to Raise a More Patient Child

A seminal study showed that four-year-olds who exercised patience had SAT scores that were 210 points higher years later.  Here, Karen Quinn, author of Testing for Kindergarten, discusses this and other self-control studies and offers parents 10 tips on raising a more patient child.

In the 1960’s, Stanford Professor Walter Mischel offered 4-year-olds a choice.  They could have a marshmallow right away or if they waited while he stepped out for a few minutes, they could have two marshmallows when he returned.  High delayers resisted the treat for fifteen minutes while low delayers waited only an average of three minutes.  Mischel followed these children for many years and discovered that high delayers had SAT scores that were on average 210 points higher than low delayers!  They were also better-adjusted and more dependable adults.

Doesn’t this make sense?  Aren’t we all beholden to our self-control?  Even if you have a high-IQ, you still have to forego going to the mall or watching TV to do your homework.  If you want a successful career, you have to work long and hard, postponing any number of more pleasurable alternatives.

Since Michel’s experiment, Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, conducted further research in self-control.  He found that willpower is like a muscle that can be strengthened by working it out in small bites.  Building up self-control in one aspect of life (such as exercising) will increase one’s overall ability to regulate in all aspects of life.  For example, studies have shown that the discipline of a regular workout leads to decreased smoking, alcohol, caffeine and junk food consumption.  What does this mean to parents?  It means we must teach our children to wait for rewards in a variety of situations so that they acquire the “master virtue” (as Baumeister calls it) of self-control or become high delayers (as Michel described it).

Here are some tips for helping your child work out her “patience muscle” and improve her odds of personal achievement.

  1. Don’t rush to help your child every time she asks. Tell her, “I can’t do it now, but I will after I finish the dishes.”  Don’t get her hooked on immediate gratification.  Teach her to tolerate frustration.
  2. Suggest ways to distract her while she waits. “Why don’t you play with your Barbies until we can start making cookies.”
  3. Make waiting concrete by connecting how long she’ll have to wait with your completion of an activity (“when I finish making dinner”) or use a timer and tell her you’ll do what she asks when the bell rights.
  4. Making waiting worthwhile. Follow through on whatever you promise so your child can see that if he waits, there’s a reward.
  5. Do projects that take time to pay off. Planting flowers from seeds, baking a cake, and fishing all require waiting for the reward.
  6. Read chapter books as soon as your child is ready (age 4 or 5).  This way, he’ll learn to wait for the next installment.
  7. Make a schedule for TV time, snack time, playground time, and plans for the day.  Schedules help kids learn to wait.
  8. Play games that require your child to wait for his turn.
  9. Be a role model for self-control. When you get frustrated, yelling, threatening, and spanking won’t teach your child to control his own emotions when he is upset.
  10. Praise your child for his patience. Children work for praise.  It’s the easiest reward you can give with the highest payoff.

Karen Quinn is the author of Testing for Kindergarten: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Ace the Tests for: Public School Placement, Private School Admissions, Gifted Program Qualification (Copyright © 2010 by Karen Quinn) and has tutored scores of children and taught hundreds of parents how to work with their own kids to prepare them for the rigorous kindergarten admissions tests for Manhattan’s most in-demand programs.  She has been a featured expert on school admissions on ABC’s 20/20 and The View and in The New York Times, Forbes, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and more.  She now lives in Miami Beach with her husband and two children.  You can visit her website at




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