The Power of Waiting

Updated: Jan 31

Featured on Hong Kong Economic Journal (April 20, 2013)


We live in a microwave generation. In the same way that food can be piping hot and ready to eat within minutes, we expect things in this world to come quickly to us. We get frustrated when the person in front of us at the shop fumbles over his change, making us wait longer. We get annoyed if the restaurant takes longer than expected to deliver our food. We, with our latest smart phones, expect fast internet connections and for people to reply our emails instantaneously. As technology has advanced, everything has come more easily and more quickly to us and waiting has become more difficult.


And waiting is one of the most difficult things for children. Parents know all too well that if a child wants something, he wants it NOW. Whether it’s attention, candy or a new toy, children naturally want things right away. But there are great benefits in waiting.


In the famous Marshmallow Test that was first conducted at Stanford University, children were put to the test as they were made to wait. The Marshmallow Test was conducted on children between 3 and 5 years old. They were each given a time to be in a room with a plate in front of them with a marshmallow on it. The researcher told the child that he could eat the marshmallow after he left the room but if he didn’t, he would be given a second marshmallow 15 minutes later. With a video camera in the room, they saw that some children turned their chair away from the marshmallow to withstand the temptation, others played with the marshmallow until the researcher got back and others just popped it into their mouths. But what is most interesting are the follow up studies they did on these same children ten, twenty years on. They found that the children who waited for the 2nd marshmallow instead of giving into temptation to eat the 1st, ended up having better SAT test scores and were described by their parents as being more academically and socially competent, as well as having better stress management skills and linguistic ability. Researchers found that the children who could wait ended up being more successful later on in life. Goes to show that waiting pays off!


There are many ways of getting children to wait in their every day lives to help them develop their patience and self-control. One thing I was always taught to do as a child was to not interrupt others. I remember vividly the times when my mother would be on the phone or talking to a friend and I would want to ask her something. She would turn to me and ask me to wait. She would then later teach me that unless it was urgent (someone was hurt or something required immediate attention), I was to wait until she was finished. Walking in my mother’s footsteps, I now do the same with my students. If they want to speak to me whilst I’m speaking to an adult, they have to stand next to me and patiently wait their turn. Or in a class, they have to put their hands up and wait their turn to speak. Simple acts like this builds a foundation in self-control and patience.


Recently, a parent and I were discussing the issue of birthday presents and parties. We were discussing how children’s birthday parties have become a time where the birthday child is showered with gifts and unfortunately, they hardly remember who gave them what or play with each toy for more than one week. So this parent was telling me how she takes all the presents her child receives and stores them away. Her child knows that the gifts are stored away and that he has to wait to get them. Every month or so, or when the child behaves well, this mother would take one gift and give it to him. What a great way to teach a child the value of waiting!


If we can teach our children to wait when they are young, they will more likely be able to wait and resist temptation when they are older. I’d like to see my child be able to wait his turn to speak when he’s 5, resist the temptation to get the new gadget that everyone is getting when he’s 15 and wait for the right girl to marry as an adult.


So, as much as we love our children and might have an urge to give them what they want when they want it, parents, hold back. EmPOWER them to wait now, and watch them succeed later. It’s worth the wait.



#Perseverance#marshmallow_test #perseverance #resist #temptation #patience #self-control

等待的力量


我們活在微波爐的世代之中。如同食物能在幾分鐘之內變得滾燙,我們亦期望世界上的東西都能手到拿來。看到有人在店裏摸索找續零錢而讓等待時間更長,我們會感到沮喪;在餐廳用膳時若食物比預期遲來,我們會感到惱怒;我們手持最新的智能手機,不但期望享用快速的互聯網服務,還期望別人即時回復郵件。隨着技術進步,一切都來得更輕鬆,等待已愈加困難。


等待對孩子來說是最困難的事情之一。如果孩子想要一樣東西,他需要現在、立即、即刻得到,這點父母應該非常清楚。不論是別人的注意、糖果或新玩具,孩子總自然地想立即得到,但等待其實有莫大好處。


史丹福大學首推的著名棉花糖測試中,孩子必須經歷等待的考驗。研究團隊為年齡界乎3至5歲的兒童進行棉花糖測試,每位孩子需在房間留待一段指定時間,他們面前都擺放了盛着一粒棉花糖的碟子。研究人員告訴孩子他離開房間後便可以吃棉花糖,但如果他們沒有吃,15分鐘後便會得到第二粒棉花糖。房間內裝有攝像機,看到有孩子將椅子遠離棉花糖抵擋誘惑;有些孩子則把玩棉花糖直至研究人員回來;亦有孩子快快把棉花糖吃下了。這測試最有趣的地方是研究團隊其後持續長達20年的跟進研究,結果顯示成功抵抗誘惑等待第二粒棉花糖的孩子在SAT測驗均有較優秀的成績,這些孩子的父母亦表示孩子在學術、社交、壓力管理及語言方面的能力較佳。研究人員發現能夠等待的孩子在未來會更成功,證明等待是有價值的!


日常生活中有很多培養孩子耐性和自我控制的方法。兒時我常被教導不能打斷別人說話,我對此至今仍記憶猶深:每當我在媽媽講電話或跟朋友說話時問她問題,她便會轉向我叫我等待,隨後便對我說如非緊急(如有人受傷或遇到需立即處理的情況),否則要先等待她結束對話。仿效母親的做法,我對學生亦如是。若他們在我和成人交談時想和我說話,他們需站在我旁邊耐心等待。課堂上,他們必須舉手等候機會發言,如此簡單的行為已能建立自我控制和耐心的基礎。


最近,我和一位家長討論生日禮物和派對的話題。現今的生日派對,孩子都會被一大堆生日禮物包圍,不幸的是他們幾乎不記得誰送了甚麼,每件玩具也不會玩多過一個星期的時間。這位家長告訴我怎樣把孩子的所有禮物收起並存儲起來。她的孩子知道自己的禮物被存起來了,需要耐心等待。每隔一個月左右,或當孩子表現良好時,這位母親便會拿一份禮物給他。要教導孩子等待的價值,這實在是絕妙的方法啊!


如果我們能在孩子年幼時教導他們等待,他們長大後便較有耐性和能抗拒誘惑。我希望我的孩子能在5歲時已能等待發言機會;在15歲時能抵擋誘惑,不買流行電子玩意;長大成人後等待和合適的女孩結婚。


有多愛我們的孩子,便有多想滿足孩子所想,但請各位家長忍住,教導他們好好等待,見證孩子的成功,這等待絕對是值得的。


2013年4月20日



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