Can sweet treats predict the future?

Testing kids with marshmallows

Stanford University performed a famous experiment on children in the 1960s. You may have heard of it. In the experiment, a child sits at a desk in a small room and is offered a marshmallow (or other treat) to eat. They are told they can eat it now or wait. But here’s the catch. The child is asked if they want a second marshmallow. They are told they can only have a second marshmallow if they can wait. They must not eat the first marshmallow until the researcher comes back.

How would you have done as a child?

Would you have waited? Stared at the ceiling? Eaten the inside of the marshmallow? Or gobbled it up immediately? Quite a few kids succeeded and lasted the full 15 minutes. They used all sorts of interesting tactics that we will tell you about later this week.

What does it matter?

Now here is where it gets interesting. Researchers checked in with the kids a couple of times over the next 30 years. They found big differences in the lives of the children. The kids who had resisted the marshmallow for 15 minutes were more successful. (This is in comparison to the children who had resisted for less than one minute). Specifically, the children who waited 15 minutes:

  • Did better at school.
    • They had higher grade point averages
    • They scored 210 points higher on their SATs (standardized achievement tests)
  • They functioned better in society.
    • They were better able to cope with frustration
    • They were better able to focus
    • They were less aggressive
    • They were less likely to be in trouble with the law
    • They were more likely stand up to peer pressure and to stay true to their own values
  • They did better financially:
    • They were less likely to have credit problems
  • They were healthier:
    • They had fewer health problems
    • They had a healthier body mass index (healthier weight)
    • They were less likely to have had risky sex
    • They were less likely to have drug addictions or smoke

The researchers called this skill delayed gratification. It is the ability to resist a small reward in favour of a larger reward later. As you can see, it’s a great skill to develop in your child!

This week

This week we will give you ideas of how to help your child strengthen their delayed gratification. We will also help you identify areas where you are already teaching this skill. You might even learn a trick or two to improve your own skills!

And a little note

We know it is unlikely you are a controlling parent. If you do sometimes lean that way, we have a quick reminder for you. Kids need to feel in control of their choice to practice delayed gratification. If you influence your child’s choice, the control is external instead of internal. And you want your child to have internal control!

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