“How many of you have a really hard time waiting to open Christmas presents?” a pastor in Flandreau, South Dakota, asked the children in church on Sunday during the sermon.
“Me!” more than a dozen kids shouted. They giggled and looked at their parents. The pastor said he was sure they’d all tried to peel back the tape on gifts already wrapped and sitting under the tree — something he said he also did as a child.
It’s hardly uncommon for kids to be excited about Christmas — anticipation for the holidays is one of the reasons we love the season so much. But these days, people have a tough time waiting for just about anything in their lives. Quick access to virtually everything has created problems, especially for children, according to Dr. Rosemary Stein, a pediatrician in Burlington, North Carolina. She said parents often ask her for help with what she calls “instant gratification syndrome.”
“I get all of these nice little boys coming in for ADHD referrals when they’re four, five, or six — they’ve not been taught how to self-entertain, how to keep themselves still, or how to have self-control.”
Stein told LifeZette she’s seeing more children failing kindergarten because they can’t focus. It’s fueled in large part by their instant access to technology.
“You cannot sit these children down for more than a couple of minutes to entertain themselves without something in their hands,” Stein told LifeZette. “Behavior ‘forms’ brains. A behavior that goes unfettered will at some point become a hard drive in the brain.”
Limiting screen time is a good place to start, said Stein, to address the problem. “It used to be that in churches or places that were boring, kids could figure out other things to do. But they’re not able to anymore. They need to constantly be playing on something, constantly entertained. The tablet is not a babysitter or a tool to occupy your child,” she said.
Self-control needs to be taught. For parents unsure of where to start, Stein offers this advice:
1.) Sit with your child for a few minutes each day — with no interruptions or distractions.
“I tell parents, ‘Get your children in front of you and start speaking.’ Their eyes have to be on you. They need to sit quietly in the thinking position, keep their hands to themselves and not fidget with their feet. They also really need to listen to what their parents say. At the beginning, these are just short sentences and at the end it should be followed by a ‘Yes, ma’am.’ Ask them to repeat back to you what you said — two or three sentences — and build on that. This teaches the child self-control.”
2.) Take your newly learned skills on an outing.
Next, exercise all of those self-control skills at the church or the doctor’s office. “Prepare the child by saying, ‘I’m not going to give you the tablet. I’m expecting you to sit there quietly. You can bring something to read to entertain yourself — but not the tablet. I’ll let you know how you do,'” said Stein. “It’s amazing. These children will start focusing better and paying attention.”
3.) Assign chores.
“Begin those good old-fashioned chores. Have a list on the refrigerator that kids can go back to and check off after they’ve done the chores properly. It’s amazing what a tedious chore can do for a child’s brain,” said Stein.
All of the above teach self-control, persistence, perseverance, and confidence — qualities that are cures for instant gratification syndrome.