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Delay of gratification and make-believe play of preschoolers.

Abstract. This study examined the relationship between children's ability to delay gratification and time spent in make-believe play in a sample of 39 three-to five-year-old children. Delay of gratification was determined in an experimental situation (Mischel, 1974). Children's play was assessed using a teacher questionnaire, a mother interview, a child interview, and videotaped naturalistic preschool classroom observations. Children who spent more time in make-believe play were able to delay gratification longer than children who spent less time in make-believe play (p = .025). There was a significant correlation between make-believe play at home and delay of gratification (p = .047), but no significant relationship between make-believe play at preschool and delay of gratification. Separate one-way analyses of variance found make-believe play (p = .042) was the only significant variable related to delay of gratification when age, sex, family structure, ethnicity, child care center, mother education, and make-believe play were examined. Solitary play versus social play and delay of gratification were not significantly related (p = .512) when examined by one-way analyses of variance.

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Emotion regulation is difficult to define universally. The term has been used interchangeably in the research literature with self-regulation, impulse control, and delay of gratification. Emotion- or self-regulation is a diverse set of several skills rather than one behavior (Walden & Smith, 1997). While others (Elias & Berk, 2002) recently have examined self-regulation in relation to make-believe play, the present study examines one component of emotion regulation that is paramount in normal personality development--delay of gratification (Bijou & Baer, 1961; Freud, A., 1965; Freud, S., 1946; Funder, Block, & Block, 1983; Mischel, 1966; Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988; Singer, 1955).

What Is Delay of Gratification?

Delay of gratification can be defined as "the ability to deny impulse in the service of a goal" (Goleman, 1995, p. 83). This ability must be self-imposed. Children have many opportunities to delay gratification without parent or teacher involvement, whether it is waiting for their turn in a game, waiting to share their favorite toy, or waiting to speak at appropriate times during a conversation. None of these examples are things a child must do, but rather are what the child does in order to receive a reward or desired outcome, such as playing a game with friends, having a mutually enjoyable time with a playmate, or engaging in a conversation. Delay of gratification is more complex than merely waiting for something when an adult requests the behavior; it requires that the child must choose to delay gratification without external influences. The internalized, self-imposed behavioral component is fundamental to the ability to delay gratification.

Several studies have examined possible factors that contribute to the development of delay of gratification. Some of these factors are parental knowledge (Horn & Knight, 1996), parental discipline style (Mauro & Harris, 2000; Weller & Berkowitz, 1975), choice (Hom& Fabes, 1984), self-discovery (Hom& Knight, 1996; Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989; Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990), technique used to delay gratification (Hom & Knight, 1996; Mischel et al., 1989), and make-believe play (Franklin, 1975; Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1971; Mischel & Baker, 1975; Saltz, Dixon, & Johnson, 1977). Riess (1957) and Singer (1955, 1961) reported that children's make-believe play at home was related to longer wait times and delay of gratification.

What Is Make-Believe Play?

Pretense (Rubin, Fein, & Vandenburg, 1983) is distinguished from other forms of play by "its relation to instrumental behaviors" (p. 699). Only if the "child gives to these activities 'as if' status" does it qualify as make-believe play; otherwise "the activity is not viewed as pretense" (p. 699). Make-believe play requires that the child enact familiar and imaginary activities and situations that are not real.

Play and Social-Emotional Development

According to Vygotsky (1966), a child is "always above his average age, above his daily behavior" in make-believe play (p. 552), and make-believe "play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 102). This is especially evident in the social-emotional domain.

Children practice reciprocity, nurturance, and cooperation through make-believe play (Berger & Thompson, 1991). Also, they continue to develop cognitive skills that are crucial to positive social interactions, such as negotiation, compromise, and dispute resolution (Berk, 1993). Connolly (1980) and Connolly and Doyle (1984) found that the social pretend play of preschoolers, one type of make-believe play, predicted scores on measures of social competence, popularity, and role-taking. Other studies have found that children who engage in more pretend play have greater conversational success, emotional understanding, creativity, and divergent problem solving and thinking (DeKroon, Kyte, & Johnson, 2002; Lloyd & Howe, 2003; Russ & Kaugers, 2001; Russ, Robins, & Christiano, 1999; Seja & Russ, 1999; Wyver & Spence, 1999).

While many studies report positive social skills and social cognition benefits of play, additional studies have reported that play promotes healthy emotional functioning in the child (Rogers & Sawyers, 1988). Singer (1973) and Singer and Singer (1985) contend that make-believe play has many psychosocial benefits for children, and those who engage in more make-believe play are likely to have flexibility in new situations and they appear to be happier. A recent study by Galyer and Evans (2001) found that children who engaged in make-believe play daily had significantly higher ratings of emotional regulation than those who did not. In addition, those who played make-believe with their parents also were rated as having higher emotional regulation than those who did not.

Vygotsky (1966) asserts that children satisfy certain needs and incentives in play. This can be achieved through either solitary or social make-believe play. According to White (1958), individuals acquire personal satisfaction from feeling competent. The play of children is a way of being productive, and play is its own reward. Lloyd and Howe (2003) found a positive association between solitary-active play and divergent thinking, and they concluded that some time spent in solitary play may have benefits previously questioned.

Play and Delay of Gratification

Vygotsky (1966) states, "Play continually creates demands on the child to act against immediate impulse" (p. 548). A constant conflict occurs during solitary and social play. He argues, for example, that the child must struggle with the choice of playing by the rules of the situation or acting spontaneously without regard for the context. In play, the child has no externally imposed rules. He can do whatever he wants. On the other hand, the child is under continuous demands to act against immediate impulse. During play, it seems that to follow the rules of the role or game gives more pleasure to the child than acting on impulse. Thus, the child delays gratification. It is in the act of play that the child delays, regardless of whether the play is social or solitary.

Many authors have linked make-believe play with the ability of preschool and early school-age children to delay gratification (Franklin, 1975; Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1971; Mischel & Baker, 1975; Singer, 1955, 1961). Research has shown that children who were reported as engaging in more make-believe play at home and having more imaginary companions were also more likely to tolerate longer waiting times and to delay gratification longer (Riess, 1957; Singer, 1961). Saltz et al. (1977) showed that adults could help increase children's self-delaying behavior by training them in sociodramatic play or fantasy play.

The relationship between make-believe play and delay of gratification is examined in this study by exploring the preschoolers' make-believe play information in several broader contexts to create a more complete view of the child's play as a whole. Data were gathered through reports from their mothers, teachers, and themselves through interviews, questionnaires, and naturalistic preschool classroom observations, and by assessing delay of gratification in an experimental situation (Mischel et al., 1988). The following criteria are used to define delay of gratification: children must voluntarily postpone immediate gratification, persist in goal-directed behavior, and wait for the more desirable outcome in lieu of the less desirable outcome that is immediately available (Karniol & Miller, 1981; Mischel & Mischel, 1983; Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989). For example, Lucia continues playing "sister" in the playhouse with Maria, with the expectation that later she will have a turn as "mother." Specifically, this study addressed a multi-situational view of the time preschoolers spent in make-believe play, either social or solitary, at home and at school, and the length of time the preschooler was able to delay gratification.

Method

Participants

The participants were 39 three- to five-year-old typically developing preschoolers (23 boys and 16 girls) who had not attended kindergarten. The children were enrolled in 10 classrooms located in six child care programs in the midwestern United States. Participants ranged in age from 3 years, 10 months to 5 years, 7 months (M = 4.7; SD = 0.6). Four children from each classroom were chosen to participate in the study, as identified below. One of the 10 participating classrooms had only three children whose parents provided informed consent to participate in the study (n = 39).

The sample of children was 80 percent non-Hispanic Caucasian, eight percent African American, eight percent Chinese, and five percent Hispanic. Most children (79.5 percent) were from two-parent households. The mean years of education completed by mothers were 16.46 years; all of the mothers had minimally completed high school.

Participant recruitment (Phase 1) included parent/child recruitment, teacher ratings for each child who had completed consent to participate, final selection of participants in the study based on teacher ratings and, lastly, videotaped observations in the classroom of those eligible participants. Letters requesting mother and child participation were sent home through the child care programs to families with an eligible child (3.9-5.3 years old and typically developing). More than 100 parents were contacted by letter to be involved in the study. Due to the confidentiality practices of one of the centers involved, the exact number of parents contacted is unknown. One hundred consent forms were returned (range = 43 - 100 percent), with an average approval rate from all centers of M = 79 percent (range = 50 - 100 percent).

Measures and Procedures

Teacher Questionnaire. For each of the 100 children whose parents had given modified Human Subjects consent, the respective teacher completed the five-item Teacher Questionnaire, which pertained to the child's play behavior in her preschool classroom. The questionnaire included both fixed-choice questions, such as "describe the child as a non-player, seldom player, regular player, or a constant player," and open-ended questions, such as "describe the child's favorite activities." The completed teacher questionnaires were collected and used by the authors to select the participants for the remaining portion of phase 1 and phase 2 of the study.

Selection of Children. The completed Teacher Questionnaires provided information on each child, such as the amount of play each child exhibited (i.e., never, seldom, often, constantly), and the percentage of the child's classroom self-selection time that was spent in make-believe. Only 17 percent of eligible children (n = 13) were considered low players. Children in each classroom were divided into high- and low-player groups. The teacher rating (i.e., never, seldom, often, or constantly) and percentage of time spent in make-believe play were considered when each child's play behavior was categorized as either low or high. In general, high players were those children who were assessed by their teacher as playing make-believe "often" or "constantly" and low players were those children who were assessed by their teacher as playing "seldom." No children were rated as "non-players." From these groupings, four children from each classroom (two high-playing children and two low-playing children) were randomly selected to participate in the remainder of the study. An attempt was made to balance by child gender.

Play Behavior in Natural Setting. Children were videotaped in their preschool classroom during the morning child-initiated play period on two consecutive days. Prior to beginning videotaping, a video technician spent time in the classroom, becoming familiar with the children, teacher, classroom, and program. The technician operated the video camera in the classroom across the room from each target child to decrease potential awareness. The video camera often was positioned so that the technician would appear to be focused on other classroom happenings to help decrease the children's awareness of the videotaping. Naturalistic recording of conversations was obtained through a microphone positioned on the camera. Observations were videotaped both days during the entire morning self-selection time, with the camera recording each child for 10 minutes each day (i.e., a total of 20 minutes for each child across two days). The four children in each classroom were videotaped in a random order on both days.

A recording form was created to categorize the type of play in which the child was engaged (i.e., constructive, exploratory, functional, make-believe, nonplay/none of the above). The play behavior categories were adapted from Rubin's Pretend Observation Scale (Rubin, 1986; Rubin & Mills, 1988) to determine the percentage of the child's self-selection play time that was spent in make-believe play. Observed classroom make-believe play (Classroom Observation) was conducted on two consecutive days. Scores for each day were summed to create one score of Classroom Observation.

Mother Interview. The questions for mothers pertained to their child's make-believe play at home only, and included Likert-type questions, such as, "On a typical day, how much time does your child spend playing make-believe?," and open-ended questions, such as, "What kinds of make-believe play are your child's favorite activities?"

Most mothers (97 percent) were interviewed by telephone, or they completed the Mother Interview while their child participated in Phase 2 of the study--the Delay of Gratification Experimental Situation. The particular reward for the delay of gratification experimental situation for each child was determined by mother report on the Mother Interview during the telephone call prior to the experiment or was reported by phone while scheduling an appointment time for the child's experimental situation.

Delay of Gratification Experimental Situation (DOGES). Delay of gratification was measured by the number of seconds between the time the contingency was presented to the child and the time the child rang the bell, as in the Mischel studies (Mischel, 1974; Mischel, Ebbesen, & Zeiss, 1972). For the current study, the selection of the reward was made prior to the assessment by talking with the child's mother. The mother was asked what kind of food item or treat was the child's favorite. Rewards varied by child and included such items as chocolate candies, lollipops, raisins, popsicles, and pieces of cantaloupe.

The researcher met the parent and child at the arranged time and escorted the child to a research room while the parent waited outside (Phase 2). Most mothers completed the Mother Interview at this time. A few mothers completed the interview by telephone. Once the child and the researcher were in the research room, they mutually played with several toy cars before the child was told that he could play with the cars again later. The researcher showed the child the rewards and asked which food he or she preferred. The researcher then presented the child with the following contingency:

Researcher: Which would you rather have? One chocolate, or two chocolates? (pointing to the one chocolate and then the two chocolates)

Child: Two.

Researcher: I have to go out of the room for a while. If you wait until I come back by myself, then you can have this one (pointing to the preferred food item). If you don't want to wait, you can ring the bell and bring me back any time you want to. But if you ring the bell, then you can't have that one (pointing to the preferred item), but you can have that one (pointing to the less-preferred food item).

The researcher questioned the child to make sure he or she understood the contingency and then left the research room. She returned when the child either rang the bell or when 15 minutes had passed. The waiting time before ringing the bell or entering the room was measured in seconds and recorded. The entire DOGES was videotaped.

Child Interview. When the DOGES was completed, the researcher asked the child eight questions about his/her play at home and at school. Questions were similar to those asked of the parents and mothers about each child's play behavior. This researcher-created interview protocol asked each child general open-ended and Likert-type questions about his or her play. The questions included both general play questions, such as, "What is your favorite thing to play?," and more specific questions, such as, "Most of the time at school, do you play alone, with peers/friends, or with adults?" Several questions pertained specifically to their make-believe play, such as, "Do you play pretend a lot, sometimes, or not very much?" Preschool children previously have been shown to be reliable reporters of similar types of rating scales (Asher, Singleton, Tinsley, & Hymel, 1979). At the completion of the interview, the child received a picture book in appreciation for participation in the study.

Analysis

Establishing Interrater Reliability. Interrater reliability for coding of classroom play behaviors was established with pilot study videos in separate codings recorded by the researcher and a child development graduate student. A coding manual and videotapes from the pilot study were used to train the coders on the research procedures to establish interrater reliability. Interrater reliability using percent agreement was sought for child's type of play. The coders simultaneously and independently coded observations, with behaviors scored every 30 seconds for the 10-minute recording (20 observations of 30 seconds = 600 seconds, or 10 minutes). The 30-second interval was coded based on the majority of the seconds in the interval (e.g., 17 seconds in constructive and 13 seconds in make-believe was coded as constructive). Discrepancies in coding were discussed and mutually agreed upon only during the training phase. Each videotape was viewed by both coders, who attained an interrater reliability level of .88 prior to beginning the coding for the study.

Interrater Reliability of Videotapes. The coding of the children's play behaviors for this study was completed by coding the behaviors of six randomly selected children to observe from Day One and another six randomly selected children from Day Two. A total of 12 observations were coded to determine the interrater reliability. The coders simultaneously and independently coded these observations on the coding form by scoring behaviors every 30 seconds for the 10-minute recording (20 observations for 30 seconds = 600 seconds, or 10 minutes). The rate of interrater agreement for the child's type of play was .94.

Results

Play at Home, Play at Preschool, and All Play (Home and Preschool Combined) Variables within measures were analyzed individually and as indexes, specifically, Play at Home, Play at Preschool, and All Play. Play at Home is a composite of each child's make-believe play at home, as reported by each child during an interview following the delay of gratification experiment and by each mother during her interview. Play at Preschool is a composite of make-believe play at school, as reported independently by the child, by each child's teacher, and by the classroom observations as videotaped. All Play is the composite score of both Play at Home and Play at Preschool. Standardized scores were created for all variables so that items scored as percentages and those scored as Likert-type items could be combined. Each variable was summed to create the Play at Home and Play at Preschool Indexes, which in turn were summed to create the All Play Index.

Delay of Gratification

Delay of Gratification scores were reported in number of seconds. Each experimental situation was videotaped, and the number of seconds was recorded from the time the contingency was stated until either the child rang the bell or 15 minutes had passed. Two of the 39 children did not complete the DOGES, so the results for 37 children were available for these analyses. Twenty-six (70 percent) of the children delayed gratification for the entire 15-minute (900 seconds) experimental situation. The remaining 11 children (30 percent) delayed gratification from 4-780 seconds (M = 774).

Play at Home and Delay of Gratification Pearson product-moment correlations revealed a significant relationship between child's make-believe play at home (Play at Home) as reported by the mother and child combined, and Delay of Gratification (r = .33, p = .047) (see Table 1). Play at Home consisted of the percentage of time spent in make-believe play at home as reported by the mother (Parent Percent, M = 50.63, SD = 24.37), amount of make-believe play at home as reported by the mother (Parent Play, M = 3.71, SD = .58), and amount of make-believe play at home as reported by the child (Child Interview on Home Play, M = 2.04, SD = .93). Three cases of missing data for the Child Interview were scored using the Child Interview on Home Play mean (M = 2.22). Child Interview on Home Play was significantly correlated with delay of gratification (r = .33, p = .05). No significant relationships were found between delay of gratification and the remaining variables of Parent Percent (r = .16, p = .34) and Parent Play (r = .23, p = .17).

Play at Preschool and Delay of Gratification

Pearson product-moment correlations revealed no significant relationships between child's make-believe play at preschool (Play at Preschool) and Delay of Gratification (r = .26, p = .118). The variables used to create the Play at Preschool index were percent of time spent in make-believe play at school as reported by the teacher (Teacher Percent, M = 48.85, SD = 22.45), amount of make-believe play at school as reported by the teacher (Teacher Play, M = 3.14, SD = .80), amount of make-believe play at school as reported by the child (Child Interview on Preschool Play, M = 2.04, SD = .93), and Classroom Observations (M = 54.64, SD = 29.33). No significant relationships were found between Delay of Gratification and Teacher Percent Play (r = .22, p =. 18), Classroom Observations (r =. 11, p = .54), or Child Interview on Preschool Play (r = -.07, p = .69). Teacher Play (r = .39, p = .08) alone approached statistical significance. These analyses are based on 39 children, with data adjusted for missing classroom observations. Two children were absent during one of the two days of classroom observations. Missing data values for classroom observation were entered as their reported score for the day observed; the two missing Child Interviews on Preschool Play were replaced with group mean scores for that variable (M = 1.74). Mean replacement was used in this situation to resolve the missing data, as is commonly done in instances of item non-response when the data are missing at random for a small number of cases. Two children who did not complete the delay of gratification experiment were omitted from the correlation analysis since the delay of gratification scores were considered to be structurally missing data and no meaningful substitution was possible.

All Play and Delay of Gratification

The child's Delay of Gratification and composite All Play (Play at Home + Play at Preschool), or time spent in make-believe play, were significantly correlated (r = .37, p = .025) (see Table 1). Those children who spent more time in make-believe play, as reported from all sources, also delayed gratification longer.

The variables examined in separate one-way analyses of variance or bivariate regressions were age (Age, M = 55.19 months), sex of child (girls, M = 872.27; boys, M = 707.05), family structure (one-parent household, M = 731.38; two-parent household, M = 785.79), ethnicity (Caucasian, M = 765.13; Chinese, M = 900; Hispanic, M = 660; African American, M = 900), mother education (high school, M = 676; other/technical school, M = 900; AA, M = 574.5; BS/ BA, M = 710.6; MS/MA, M = 836.78; PhD, M = 900), child-care center attended (Center 1, M = 701.38; Center 2, M = 843.38; Center 3, M = 715.25; Center 4, M = 832.71; Center 5, M = 900; Center 6, M = 565), total make-believe play of child (All Play, M = -.17), and the interaction of Sex and All Play. As expected, the effect of make-believe play (All Play) was the only variable that was a statistically significant predictor of Delay of Gratification (F (1, 38) = 4.58, p = .04, Observed Power = .54) (see Table 2).

A logistic regression was run to test further for the possible direct effect of Sex and All Play and the interaction effect of Sex and All Play on Delay of Gratification. Delay of Gratification was coded as either not completing the DOGES (<900 seconds) or completing the DOGES (900 seconds). This analysis yielded a model that correctly predicted 67.57 percent of the time whether a child would complete the task or fail to complete the task. Sex (p = .86) and the interaction of Sex and All Play (p = .86) remained nonsignificant in this analysis also.

Solitary Play Versus Social Play and Delay of Gratification

To assess whether Play Partners had an effect on Delay of Gratification, a one-way analysis of variance was estimated for the eight solitary play variables (i.e., teacher report of time spent in solitary make-believe play, parent report of time spent in solitary make-believe play, parent report of percentage of time spent in solitary make-believe play, observed solitary make-believe play on day one, observed solitary make-believe play on day two, child report of solitary make-believe play at home, and child report of solitary make-believe play at school). None of the Solitary Make-Believe Play variables were related to Delay of Gratification (F = .91, p = .51, Observed Power = .31) (see Table 3).

Discussion

This study explored the relationship between children's delay of gratification and time spent in make-believe play, based on Vygotsky's (1966) argument that "play continually creates demands on the child to act against immediate impulse" (p. 548). A constant conflict occurs during make-believe play, whether playing with others in sociodramatic play or alone in solitary make-believe play. For example, in sociodramatic play, the child resists the desire to be the "mom" in order to play house with her friend who also wants to be the "morn." In solitary play, a boy who is pretending to be "dad" does not throw the clothes on the floor as he would like; instead he acts like "dad," who hangs them up on a hanger. In both cases, the child must struggle with the choice of playing by the rules of the situation or doing what he or she would do when acting spontaneously (Vygotsky). This study offers support for Vygotsky's theory and the importance of make-believe play for preschoolers.

Delay of Gratification

Procedures used in this study to assess delay of gratification were used previously in several studies (Hom & Fabes, 1984; Hom & Knight, 1996; Karniol & Miller, 1981; Mischel & Ebbesen, 1970; Mischel et al., 1989; Shoda et al., 1990). The test, commonly referred to as "The Marshmallow Test" (Goleman, 1995), was used for the current study and showed longer delay times than expected. Shoda et al. (1990) reported a mean delay time of 512.8 seconds, of 900 possible seconds, with SD = 368.7 seconds for children in the same age range as the current study. Unexpectedly, much longer delay times (M = 774 seconds, SD = 236.5) are reported here, where more than two-thirds of the children were able to delay gratification for the entire duration of the 15-minute experiment (900 seconds). Our sample of children were considered typically functioning children and completion of the entire situation was expected unless there was a cognitive or social problem, which only occurs in a small percentage of preschool children. It was therefore assumed that a relatively small portion of the children in the current study would delay gratification for less than the entire duration of the experiment. Children who delayed gratification for shorter periods of time in the Shoda et al. (1990) study were linked to lower cognitive and social outcomes as adolescents than those who delayed longer.

It is interesting to note the various strategies the children used during the delay task. Some children played with the available toys in the experimental room, some made faces in the observation room mirror, while others danced, moved the furniture around, repeated the contingency out loud to themselves ("You can have this one, but if you wait you can have that one"), looked at the reward, covered the reward; others sat in one spot without much movement or activity. Although this study did not examine the child's strategies or thoughts during the experimental delay situation, Mischel and Mischel (1983) did examine these. They found that by age 5, children begin to understand basic rules about self-control, such as covering the reward rather than exposing it and engaging in task-oriented behavior instead of letting thoughts or actions about the reward consume them. The children in the present study exhibited similar behaviors.

Make-Believe Play Index and Delay of Gratification

Children in this study who engaged more often in make-believe play were able to delay gratification longer (r = .37, p = .025) (see Table 1). This finding supports portions of previous work by Riess (1957) and Singer (1961) indicating that children who engage in more make-believe play at home and have more imaginary companions were more likely to tolerate long waits and longer delay of gratification. Saltz et al. (1977) showed that adults could help increase children's self-delaying behavior by training them in fantasy play. The findings of the current study strongly support Vygotsky's (1966) idea that "play continually creates demands on the child to act against immediate impulse" (p. 548). Continual internal conflicts occur during play. The child must struggle with the choice of playing by the rules of the situation or doing what he or she would do if he or she could act spontaneously (Vygotsky). This idea then translates not only to make-believe play with peers but also to make-believe play alone.

The current study analyzed delay of gratification in relation to play alone as well as with others. The finding that whether the make-believe play was alone or with others did not make a significant difference in delay of gratification is of utmost importance because of the misconception that the benefits of make-believe play are due to the aspects of social engagement. While there are several known benefits from the social aspects of make-believe play (Connolly, 1980; Connolly & Doyle, 1984; DeKroon et al., 2002; Pellegrini, Blatchford, Kato, & Baines, 2004), this study supports the idea that it is the actual engagement in make-believe itself that is important, not whether it is solitary or social.

Vygotsky (1966) states that the child must struggle with the choice of playing by the rules of the situation or doing what he would do if he could act spontaneously, translating not only to make-believe play with peers but to make-believe play alone. It is the rules of the role that offer experience in delaying gratification, such as what "Mommy" would do or what a "firefighter" would do, as opposed to delaying gratification with another child to have "a turn" or play "house" when the other wants to play "restaurant." While the current study supports Vygotsky's (1966) theory, it does contradict previous results (e.g., Elias & Berk, 2002) showing that children who engaged in more solitary make-believe play improved less over time in self-regulation. This apparent difference might be due to the differing operational definitions of key variables addressed in the two studies. Elias and Berk assessed self-regulation as taking responsibility and assisting others at clean-up time and attentiveness during circle time. This differs greatly from the definition of delay of gratification in the current study, in which children voluntarily must postpone immediate gratification, persist in goal-directed behavior, and wait for the more desirable outcome in lieu of the less desirable outcome that is immediately available to them.

Family Structure, Mother Education, and Child Care Center

The present study examined the three variables of Family Structure, Mother Education, and Child Care Center, which had not been previously reported in relation to delay of gratification. No significant differences were found for these variables. The majority of mothers in this sample had completed education beyond high school; the decreased variance in education for this sample may have contributed to this null finding. It is suggested that mothers with varying education levels be considered for further studies.

Sex, Ethnicity, and Age

In addition to these new variables, we investigated three variables reported in previous studies. Previous findings on delay of gratification showed no significant differences for sex of child (Atwood, Ruebush, & Everett, 1978; Axtell, 1995). Play and sex of child were investigated in this study, as past studies have found sex to be related to some components of play (Hartup, 1983; Serbin, Tonick, & Sternglanz, 1977). Sex differences have not been consistently reported for the amount of make-believe play (Rubin, 1977). Consistent with past findings, neither sex nor the interaction of sex and play had a significant effect on delay of gratification in the current study. Nonconclusive (Banks, McQuater, Anthony, & Ward, 1992) and/or no significant relations (Banks et al., 1992; Gonzalez, 1989) between ethnicity and delay of gratification have been reported previously. The findings of this study support the previous findings of no significant relationship. Delay of gratification of preschool-age children shows no differences for the 3- to 5-year age group (Axtell, 1995). Mischel, Shoda, and Peake (1988) suggested that children below the age of 3 are not yet able to delay gratification and children over 5 typically have been taught strategies to delay. It is this period between 3-5 years that offers a view into the child's individual delay of gratification. This study provides support to the previously cited studies in which no significant relationship was found between Delay of Gratification and Age, Sex, or Ethnicity. It is important to note that this study found that All Play was the only variable that was statistically significant (F (1, 38) = 4.58, p = .04) (see Table 2).

Time Spent in Play and Delay of Gratification

Play at Home and Delay of Gratification. Play at Home was significantly related to Delay of Gratification (r = .33, p < .05) (see Table 1). This finding supports earlier studies by Riess (1957) and Singer (1961), who reported that children who engage in more make-believe play at home and have more imaginary companions also were more likely to tolerate long waits and demonstrate longer delay of gratification. During an interview (r = .33, p = < .05) following the DOGES, each child reported the amount of time (i.e., how much) they play make-believe at home (i.e., 1 = not very much, 2 = sometimes, or 3 = a lot) (M = 2.04, SD = .93) and their favorite home play activities. The children commonly referred to their make-believe play at home with particular toys, such as Barbie and cars, and make-believe play such as playing horses, farm, and superheroes. Electronic activities, such as computer, video games, and television were mentioned often. Cards and board games were noted less often.

Each mother reported the time her child spent in make-believe play at home using a 5-point scale (i.e., never, seldom, sometimes, regularly, or constantly), and an estimated percentage of time the child chooses to play make-believe at home when play time is available. On average, children were rated as regular players and spent half of their time in make-believe play. Mothers reported several kinds of favorite make-believe play. Most often, children were role-playing as such characters as princess, farmer, literary figures, dinosaurs, mom, dad, teacher, superhero, or they were interacting with imaginary others. One parent stated, "She has four imaginary friends. One (Boom Boom) has been around a long time and almost daily ... recently we've had a lot of Bad Wolf sightings." Pretend play with action figures and toy vehicles also was mentioned often.

School Play and Delay of Gratification. Play at Preschool was not significantly related to delay of gratification (r = .26, p = * 12). Child Interview on Preschool Play (as reported during the Child Interview) was not significantly related to delay of gratification (r = -.07, p = .69). Children reported playing with a wider variety of activities, such as books, art projects, and snacks, at school than at home. The most often reported toys and activities were blocks, computers, and playing with friends. The relationship of school play and delay of gratification has not been reported previously.

Teacher's report of percentage of time spent in make-believe play was not significantly related to delay of gratification (r = .22, p = .18). Teacher's report of play was marginally related to delay of gratification (r = .29, p = .08). Teachers tended to provide more global written details about make-believe play for each child than did the parents. Teachers limited their comments about the favorite make-believe activities of the children to dramatic play, pretending, and building.

The percentage of time children spent in make-believe play during the 10-minute observations on two consecutive days was reported (M = 54.64 percent, SD = 29.33 percent) but did not reach statistical significance in relation to Delay of Gratification (r = .11, p = .54). The naturalistic classroom observations provided more detail about the make-believe play occurring in the classrooms than that provided only by the teacher reports. Most child care classrooms had more than one dramatic play area. These areas usually included a housekeeping area with household items and another dramatic play area with a dollhouse, train set, or theme-based manipulatives, such as Farm Legos or Circus Duplos. It was evident from the observations that the preschool classrooms were providing opportunities for make-believe play.

Perhaps the lack of a significant relationship between Play at Preschool and Delay of Gratification is due to the greater variety of activities and playmates available at preschool. Materials and activities, in addition to make-believe play during self-selection time, were abundant in the participating classrooms. The number of appealing and available activities, coupled with the length of time provided to select play activities (typically 45 minutes for one time period), may have led to less involvement in the make-believe play situations. Also, these teachers were more likely to be involved in art activities rather than make-believe play during self-selection times. The teachers' presence may have drawn more children to the non-make-believe play activities.

Finally, since the study found a strong relationship, based on correlation and multiple regression analyses, between delay of gratification and make-believe play at home, more investigations regarding the home are warranted. Using these findings, additional variables about play in the home, such as parental beliefs about make-believe play, actual play activities, and the home environment, should be explored.

Implications

Children's make-believe play at home was significantly related to the child's ability to delay gratification. Thus, it is apparent that the home is a crucial environment in which preschoolers can develop competencies that help them delay gratification, although the context of the parent-child relationship at home and parent beliefs about make-believe play were not investigated here. Previous research has shown that parental knowledge (Hom & Knight, 1996) and parental discipline style (Mauro & Harris, 2000; Weller & Berkowitz, 1975) contribute to the child's ability to delay gratification. A non-coercive parenting style (giving the child opportunities to delay gratification without imposing the delay on them), showing the child through modeling appropriate ways to delay gratification, and being both responsive to children's needs and applying boundaries and expectations are all considered to help lay a foundation for children's ability to delay gratification (Hom & Knight, 1996; Mauro & Harris, 2000; Weller & Berkowitz, 1975). Now, parental facilitation of make-believe play is also considered a way to help lay that foundation.

Shoda et al. (1990) found that preschoolers who were able to delay gratification during the preschool years were rated as more competent academically, socially, and verbally, and were seen as rational, attentive, more planful, and better able to deal with stress and frustrations as adolescents. Delay of gratification also is considered a component of emotional intelligence. It is one of the eight specific abilities that together define emotional intelligence (self-motivation, impulse control, delay of gratification, empathy, hope, regulation of mood, preventing distress from overwhelming one's thinking, and persistence when confronted with frustrations) (Goleman, 1995). Goleman states that being emotionally intelligent gives a person advantages in all aspects of life. He also asserts that parenting practices help the child develop the basic emotional competencies that can help a child deal effectively with life.

Based on the findings of this study, which show a strong relationship between delay of gratification and time spent in make-believe play at home, parents are encouraged to promote and facilitate an increase in time spent in make-believe play at home. Although school make-believe play alone did not show a significant relationship to delay of gratification, it did contribute to the overall make-believe play of each child. Therefore, make-believe play should not be neglected in the classroom and teachers can help parents increase make-believe play at home. It is suggested that teachers create dramatic play centers in the classroom and outdoors that are more attractive, offer a wide variety of dramatic play themes, provide more time to engage in free-choice activities, and promote make-believe play through teacher presence to extend the themes and roles. In addition, offering parent workshops that explore the importance of make-believe play in the home and ideas for enhancing additional make-believe themes, sending home information newsletters about make-believe play, and creating themed backpacks and/or suitcases for family checkout can encourage make-believe in the home.
Table 1
Time Spent in Make-Believe Play and Delay of Gratification

 Play Play at All
 at Home Preschool Play

Play at Home 1.00 .24 .72 **
Play at Preschool -- 1.00 .85 **
All Play -- -- 1.00
Teacher Play -- -- --
Teacher Percent Play -- -- --
Child Interview/ Preschool Play -- -- --
Classroom Observation -- -- --
Parent Play -- -- --
Parent Percent Play -- -- --
Child Interview Home Play -- -- --
Delay Time (Seconds) -- -- --

 Teacher Teacher Child
 Play Percent Interview/
 Play Preschool
 Play

Play at Home .20 .18 .18
Play at Preschool .73 ** .72 ** .48 **
All Play .63 ** .61 ** .44 **
Teacher Play 1.00 .72 ** .10
Teacher Percent Play -- 1.00 .20
Child Interview/ Preschool Play -- -- 1.00
Classroom Observation -- -- --
Parent Play -- -- --
Parent Percent Play -- -- --
Child Interview Home Play -- -- --
Delay Time (Seconds) -- -- --

 Classroom Parent Parent
 Observation Play Percent
 Play

Play at Home .09 .31 .73 **
Play at Preschool .61 ** .40 * .05
All Play .48 ** .46 ** .44 **
Teacher Play .16 .17 .03
Teacher Percent Play .08 .29 .01
Child Interview/ Preschool Play .03 .41 * .16
Classroom Observation 1.00 .08 -.004
Parent Play -- 1.00 .31
Parent Percent Play -- -- 1.00
Child Interview Home Play -- -- --
Delay Time (Seconds) -- -- --

 Child Delay
 Inerview/ Time
 Home Play (Seconds)

Play at Home .72 ** .33 *
Play at Preschool .15 .26
All Play .50 ** .37 *
Teacher Play .19 .29
Teacher Percent Play .01 .22
Child Interview/ Preschool Play .08 .07
Classroom Observation .11 .11
Parent Play .03 .23
Parent Percent Play .28 .16
Child Interview Home Play 1.00 .33 *
Delay Time (Seconds) -- 1.00

* p < .05 (2 tailed)

** p < .01 (2 tailed)

Table 2
One-way Analyses of Variance: Delay of Gratification and Age, Mother
Education, All Play, Center, Sex, Ethnicity, Family, Sex * All Play

Source Type III Df Mean Square
 Sum of Square

Corrected Model 1012035.50 (a) 14 72288.25
Intercept 53766.56 1 53766.56
Age 43744.8 1 43744.80
Mother Education 31157.79 1 31157.79
All Play 208497.52 1 208497.52
Center 181977.28 5 36395.46
Sex 96300.00 1 96300.00
Ethnicity 144085.89 3 48028.63
Family 79927.74 1 79927.74
Sex * All Play 14956.16 1 14956.16
Error 1001079.4 22 45503.61
Total 24180475.00 37
Corrected Total 2013115.00 36

Source F Sig. Eta
 Squared

Corrected Model 1.59 .16 .50
Intercept 1.18 .29 .05
Age .96 .34 .04
Mother Education .69 .42 .03
All Play 4.58 .04 .17
Center .80 .56 .15
Sex 2.12 .16 .09
Ethnicity 1.06 .39 .13
Family 1.76 .20 .07
Sex * All Play .33 .57 .02

(a.) R Squared = .503 (Adjusted R Squared = .186)

Table 3
One-way Analyses of Variance: Delay of Gratification and Alone
at School (Teacher), Alone at Home (Parent), %Alone at Home
(Parent), Observed Alone Day 1, Observed Alone Day 2, Alone
at Home (Child), Alone at School (Child)

Source Type III Df Mean Square
 Sum of Squares

Corrected Model 399468.30 (a) 7 57066.90
Intercept 313828.43 1 313828.43
Alone at School 108213.62 1 108213.62
 (Teacher)
Alone at Home 9471.08 1 9471.08
 (Parent)
%Alone at Home 22410.19 1 22410.19
 (Parent)
Observed 1 10334.10 1 10334.10
 Alone Day
Observed 2 2779.01 1 2779.01
 Alone Day
Alone at Home 5458.81 1 5458.81
 (Child)
Alone at School 6191.51 1 6191.51
 (Child)
Error 1561537.60 25 62461.50
Total 21142075.00 33
Corrected Total 1961005.90 32

Source F Sig. Eta Squared

Corrected Model .91 .51 .20
Intercept 5.02 .03 .17
Alone at School 1.73 .20 .07
 (Teacher)
Alone at Home .15 .70 .01
 (Parent)
%Alone at Home .36 .55 .01
 (Parent)
Observed 1 .17 .69 .01
 Alone Day
Observed 2 .04 .84 .00
 Alone Day
Alone at Home .09 .77 .00
 (Child)
Alone at School .10 .76 .00
 (Child)

(a.) R Squared = .204 (Adjusted R Squared = -.019)


This study was partially supported by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at Iowa State University. We would like to thank the participants, the schools, the teachers, and staff for their help in this study's success. Much gratitude goes out to Angie Curtis, Mike Merten, Angie Wilson, and Tsunghui Tu for their help in the data collection and coding process.

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Joanna J. Cemore

Southwest Missouri State University

Joan E. Herwig

Iowa State University
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