by David Heinen (psysci.co)
Halloween is a fun time for parents and kids. For many children, the 31st of October can be the highlight of their year: Dressing up in costume, spooky decorations, and, of course, the mountain of candy waiting for them.
While parents certainly enjoy the dressing up and the trick-or-treating, they may not enjoy the sugar rush that comes from eating too much candy. (And the kids probably don’t enjoy the stomach ache!)
But this Halloween, instead of keeping kids from eating candy wholesale, or even just making them eat less, perhaps it’s a better idea to let them eat what they want, so long as they wait for it.
The Science Behind Delayed Gratification
They say that patience is a virtue, but psychology research has demonstrated that it is also an important developmental accomplishment.
For over 50 years, psychological researchers have utilized The Marshmallow Test to test children’s ability to delay gratification. In the original experiments, young kids were given a marshmallow. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow right now if they want to, but if they wait until the adult comes back into the room, they would be given a second marshmallow, and they could eat both.
Subsequent longitudinal studies have demonstrated that the kids who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow ended up getting better test scores, had more positive health outcomes, and had better general well-being than the kids who just couldn’t wait.
Is it possible to make your kids wait to eat their Halloween candy without them knowing?
- The first strategy is to simply provide positive reinforcement. Even if they only had to wait for a moment or two for you to be ready for them, make sure to thank them for their patience.
- Another idea is to tell kids how long they need to wait, and then put that amount of time onto an egg timer. Once they hear the ding, they are rewarded for their patience with a treat.
3. Kids might also have to wait until they complete a particular chore or some homework before they get their treat. Using a chore chart or some other physical reward system can help reinforce their patience.
This Halloween, everybody wins. The kids get to eat the candy they so desperately need, and parents teach their children a skill they so desperately need.