Making The Wait Less Arduous for Young Children

Making the wait less arduous

When young children have to wait, it often leads to negative affect, as they can’t yet regulate their emotions. A team headed by Johanna Schoppmann from the Developmental Psychology and Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology units at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) set out to find out how to help them. Is temperament a factor that influences behavior while waiting? Whom can children imitate in order to cope better with long waits? They concluded that, left to their own devices, young children prefer activities which are corresponding to their temperament. Toddlers were able to learn to distract themselves by observing a stranger and generalized the observed behavior.

When their mother wants to finish typing an email or their father is on the phone, toddlers can get restless very quickly: at this age, waiting is not something they are good at. How can parents teach their children to cope better with such waiting situations? This question was the starting point for the study that involved 96 toddlers aged two and their parents. A previous study had shown that children can learn through observation to distract themselves with a toy while waiting. The current work focused on role of a child’s temperament.

Three-Minute Wait

Therefore, the researchers made the toddlers in the study wait for three minutes for a small gift or candy. The coveted object was put out of reach, but within sight and the study leader left the room. While waiting, the parents interfered as little as possible with the child, leaving them to their own devices. A stack of cups and, as a more active toy, a toy lawn mower were available. On the experimenter’s return, the toddler received the desired object. “We observed that children who were described by their parents as rather calm tended to occupy themselves by playing calmly, such as stacking the cups, and the toddlers who were characterized by their parents as rather active tended to play in an active manner, such as running around with the lawn mower and thus managed to regulate their negative feelings well,” outlines Johanna Schoppmann.

Role Modeling

In the second step, the researchers looked at how best to support a child in finding something to do while waiting in order to regulate their emotions. To this end, the researchers showed the children how to distract themselves with either quiet or active playing activities, whereas children in a control group performed a playful task that had nothing to do with waiting. Subsequently, all children waited a second time for three minutes.

“In this situation, it was shown that toddlers who had observed an adult playing while waiting distracted themselves more than the children who had not observed anyone waiting,” says Johanna Schoppmann. This means that the children copied distraction as a strategy. However, there were no differences in whether the children’s temperament matched the demonstrated playing style (quiet or active). The researchers conclude that toys that match the child’s temperament are not as important when it comes to learning strategies from others. Toddlers can also learn from both parents and strangers how to regulate their emotions through activity.

StepUp Note

Toddlers in this study learned to wait by watching an adult when the adult modeled how to distract themselves by playing with a little toy to pass the time.  The toddlers in this study learned to copy the adult model, and to distract themselves while waiting, too. The research also showed that children can use physical activity to help regulate their emotions. StepUp programs provide active movement which require children to copy from a model, and give them 15 minutes of daily practice in self-regulation, which helps them develop this important skill. StepUp's cloud-based programs enrich any PreK - Grade 2 curriculum. Try it free for 30 days!

Note by Nancy W Rowe M.S., CCC/A

Reposted from Ruhr University Bochum