The Marshmallow Test – and why it’s important to teach your kids to WAIT!
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Many years ago, research was carried out to discover why some children become happy, confident, resilient well balanced adults & some don’t.
The findings were very clear regarding those differences: children who succeed have close relationships with others, particularly their immediate family, feel valued in their communities & have a sense of control over some aspects of their lives. While children who are in trouble feel isolated, useless to society and powerless.
The children who find life challenging, and get into emotional and physical trouble, are missing four important necessities to manage life’s challenges.
- They are missing feeling connected to others, whether that is their family or the community.
- They are missing feeling capable to take care of themselves.
- They are missing feeling valuable, that they count and that they matter & that they make a difference.
- They are missing courage.
These four fundamentals are needed for children to feel that they can meet and manage the challenges of life.
What the Crucial ‘C’s* Give Children.
The 4 ‘C’s give us all the feeling that we connect, that we are capable, that we count and that we have courage & they will go a long way to enhance a positive attitude about life and give it meaning & purpose.
By embracing these very simple principles you will transform your parenting & become better at understanding the goals behind your child’s behaviour & their needs, because these simple principles will empower you with better ways to raise a happy, confident, resilient child with strong self-esteem & good mental health.
If we ensure that our children feel connected, capable, courageous and that they count as valuable human beings, they will take life on and make it work for them. They will develop a ‘Can Do Kid’ mindset & they will have the ability to handle whatever life throws at them.
Kids who are brought up with the four Crucial ‘C’s* become
Complementing the Crucial ‘C’s*
Alongside the Crucial ’C’s* are 4 really important skills that you’ll need to take on board.
- Communication. I think the ability to communicate effectively is the oil that lubricates life. We need great communication skills to make friends, to get on in our work environment, to have meaningful relationships & to create understanding and empathy in our intimate partnerships. Communication helps us cooperate, negotiate, empathise, listen, learn and feel connected to others. It’s a vitally important life skill so we need to ‘Talk & Teach’ it to our kids. The ability to talk confidently, listen effectively, express our emotions healthily and to listen fully to others is part of the Crucial ‘C’ of Connecting. I work with many families with teenagers who complain exasperatingly ‘They don’t ‘get me’ or understand me.’ I hear distressed parents going through a stressful divorce telling me ‘We just stopped communicating.’
I wrote my CD ‘The importance of effective communication’ for this reason.
I show you how to help your child feel understood, the difference between active and reflective listening, how to build rapport with your stroppy teenager or tantrum filled toddler and what sort of questions you should avoid!
2. The mastery of self-discipline. Nobody likes a child, or an adult, that displays lack of self-discipline. Children need firm, fair and consistent boundaries around them to feel safe, to feel loved and to feel that they count. Children need self-discipline to become Capable.
Children who are taught self-discipline are in control of their emotions. They can control their anger, frustration, they don’t lash out and punch, kick or bite others, or lash out verbally and abusively. They use their emotions to fuel their own motivation, they develop inner control, they can resist outer negative pressures and they can delay instant gratification for longer term reward.
In these busy, frenetic, hectic times of instant gaming gratification, instant streaming, instant satisfaction generally, children are growing up unable to wait. If you give in to every need, whim or fancy of your child, you are robbing them of the joy of ‘struggling’ to finish something, wait for something, save up for something. You are denying them the vital skill of acquiring self-discipline which is important for life.
So, part of ‘Talking & Teaching’ your kids about self-discipline is to control your child’s use of technology imbued deliberately with clicking, surfing, liking & trying to get you to the next level.
Teaching your child self-discipline, through your consistent discipline in all areas of their lives from brushing their teeth, to doing homework & going to bed at a regular time, is the antidote to instant gratification.
Children, and young people, without good self-discipline feel out of control, scared, vulnerable and at the whim of fate or the people they hang out with. So, start by pondering ways to help your child experience that anticipation is fun and rewarding.
Be mindful that your toddler’s brain is not yet mature enough to magically acquire self-control skills overnight – be patient but persistent.
You may have heard of
The Marshmallow Test: The Famous Study in Self-Control and Delayed Gratification.
Watch this video it’s not the original but I love the reactions of the kids !
Psychologists studied why some kids seem to excel at demonstrating self-control and delaying gratification, while others struggle. Here is the famous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel and a team of researchers at Stanford University in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
One by one, 4-year-old children were presented with a marshmallow and informed that they could either eat a marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and receive two marshmallows. Some children gobbled up and ate the marshmallow straight away, while others managed to wait the full 15 minutes and receive the reward of a second marshmallow.
The researchers continued to follow up with the children for the next several decades. They found that the 4-year-olds who had successfully waited for 15 minutes differed in significant ways from the children who couldn’t wait. Over the years, the children who had “passed” the marshmallow test developed the following characteristics:
- better emotional coping skills
- higher rates of educational attainment
- higher SAT scores
- lower BMI
- lower divorce rates
- lower rates of addiction
3. Taking Responsibility. Children need to learn to take responsibility for their actions. They need to stop blaming others for decisions and choices that they make. When I was teaching I constantly heard. ‘But he made me do it!’ Kids need to stop depending on others to rescue them or protect them ‘You should have told me before’ is a common cry from teenagers.
Children need to be taught the difference between ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’ & the responsibility that goes with growing up.
When kids get a detention for not handing in their homework, or arriving late into school 4 days in a row, they need to know that it’s their responsibility, not yours, their Grandma’s or their teachers fault! If they do well then, they need to take the responsibility for their success and pat themselves on the back.
Children need to learn from their mistakes, take different actions next time, fail forward, fixing what went wrong and celebrate their successes.
Taking responsibly helps children feel Capable & Competent and it builds their self-confidence & self-esteem.
4. Good Judgement & Wise Decision Making. Experience is the best teacher of all, but also being able to observe, step back and ponder, to be able to reflect and learn from other’s mistakes is also a good teacher too. Kids have to make constant choices – some are important like whether to hang out in that group, say no to drugs and who to trust, whilst some are less important like what dress to wear to a party, what sweets to buy at the checkout counter, to what film to watch on Netflix. But the ability to make good choices is essential if children are to be able to decide if something is safe or dangerous, fair or unfair, kind or unkind, appropriate or not appropriate. It’s important that we teach kids when to lead and when to follow, when to stand up for something they believe in or when to go against the crowd & do it alone. As parents, we have to teach our kids how to evaluate situations, trust their instinct and intuition, ponder consequences and decide for themselves.
This starts in small ways, in small things, when kids are young. Just embracing this mindset in your parenting will help you nurture good judgment in your children as they mature and grow up.
Just for this week pause to ponder how you ‘Talk and Teach’ effective Communication, Self-Discipline, Responsibility and Good Judgement in your family. If you don’t like what you discover, don’t beat yourself up. Just commit to having a better go next week – we are all a work in progress but I hope this article has given you food for thought and a new way of thinking about raising your kids towards becoming more happy, confident, capable and resilient.
*References by :
B.L. Bettner and A. Lew (1989, 2005), Raising Kids Who Can, Newton Centre, MA: Connexions Press.
Dr. Rudoph Dreikers Children: The Challenge” (Plume)
Alfred Adler Individual Psychology Harper Collins