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There's definitely no shortage of parenting advice in this world, and nowadays, most of that advice is centered around independent and big-picture thinking, nonconformity, and allowing children to express themselves without fear of judgment. And this is all great, but when you combine it with all the new technology, games, and television—it doesn't leave much room for traditional rituals that have been a huge part of parenting for so many years.
But a new study, published in Child Development, challenges this new parenting style by showing that certain ritualistic games—like the classic circle time—can really help improve children's self-control and mental agility, which are some of the key characteristics of successful future adults.
So how do we raise our kids to be more mindful?
The study went like this: A group of children performed two tasks that assessed their executive functioning and self-control. The first task tested their ability to obey reversed commands (for example, touching toes when they are told to touch their knees). In the second test children were told that if they could resist eating a piece of chocolate for 15 minutes, they would be allowed to have three pieces of chocolate. This is a version of the classic Marshmallow Test, which has become a popular way to measure willpower and impulse control. The children were then separated into two groups, with one group of children participating in 35-minute circle time sessions twice a week.
A few months later the children took the tests again and results showed that the circle time group showed greater improvements in both executive functioning and self-control, which according to the Center of Developing Child at Harvard University, are critical skills that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and multitask successfully. Executive functioning is also linked to the ability to make good decisions, which is something all moms and dad want for their children—regardless of their individual parenting style.
What’s the role of traditional cultural practices in modern parenting?
Old-fashioned circle time is a ritual that involves sitting on the floor with a teacher, learning new dances, and copying their motions and actions. And according to researchers, there is something about the conformity and attention to detail of circle time that makes it a great way to improve children's executive functioning and self-control.
This doesn't mean that circle time is absolutely critical for childhood development, but this study does open up a discussion about the value of more traditional parenting practices with the researchers concluding, 'the irony may be that in devising strategies for parenting and schooling geared to a world of rapid technological change while neglecting the importance of traditional cultural practices, we may be contributing to a deterioration of young people's attentive and inhibitive resources, thus promoting impulses toward instant gratification."