It’s all about self control!
A Stanford University professor and psychologist, Walter Mischel, conducted a famous series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s with 4 year old children. The children were given a marshmallow but were told that if they did not eat the marshmallow immediately but waited until researcher returned to the room after about 15 minutes, they would be given two.
This study which has been repeated many times since, but what was the pay-off?
In a follow-up study of the same children it was discovered that those children who had been able to control their desire to eat the one marshmallow in order to get two, had higher SAT (Standardized Assessment Test for entry into US colleges) score and other beneficial life outcomes, than those children who gave in to temptation or gobbled the marshmallow immediately.
Ten years later in the follow-up study, parents of children who could wait, described them as more competent.
Studies have shown that being able to wait, display self-control or self-gratification provide some protection against anxiety and depression (Eisenberg et al, 2010).
Check out YouTube about the marshmallow test (there are many videos) for some gorgeous children who agonisingly use all their skills to delay eating the marshmallow/treat.
The skills they use include distraction, avoidance by covering their eyes so they cannot see the treat, talking to themselves to stop from giving in. Smart skills which we can teach our children to be more self-controlled at home and at school.
Advantages of fostering more self-regulation in your children at home are obvious.
It would be great for tired and busy parents to diminish a child’s nagging or demanding immediate attention. But it takes some effort and consistency. Rewarding the wait is an effective device.
However, children soon learn not to trust if some promised activity or item is not provided for them in due course – why wait if you are not going to get it anyway! So following up consistently on promises is very important.
Being realistic about your child’s ability and maturity to actually understand and put into action the skills needed to wait is important. Children have some strong growth in this ability between years of 3 and 7 but each child is different.
At school, students are asked regularly to wait for attention as teachers have many others to assist.
Students who need help immediately and seem to be lost without some adult direction can feel helpless. Learned helplessness will affect these children’s academic outcomes as they relinquish control over their own learning.
So building their self-control and ability to direct their impulsivity into creative and constructive areas will be positive both at school and home.
Eisenberg N, Spinrad TL, and Eggum ND. 2010. Emotion-related self-regulation and its relation to children’s maladjustment. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 27;6:495-525.