Thursday, February 11, 2016

Help Your Child Master This Skill for Success in Life

As parents, we desire to help our children grow to be relatively happy and able to easily provide for themselves in adulthood.  One of the keys to both comes through helping our children master is the skill of delayed gratification. In a nutshell, delayed gratification is the ability to put off or resist a small temptation now, in order to gain a larger reward later. For example, a teenager faced with choice of hanging out with friends or studying for a math test the next day would be practicing delayed gratification by choosing to study now and hang out with friends after taking the test. Helping our kids to learn the value of delaying gratification can set them up to be more successful later in life, as numerous studies have demonstrated.

Psychologist Dr. Walter Mischel performed a now famous study on delayed gratification in the 1960s. His test was simple. Children were brought one at a time into an empty room save for a table with marshmallows. The instructor told each child that he would be leaving the room for a few moments and the child could eat one marshmallow while he was away, but if he or she waited until he returned, the child could eat two marshmallows. Not surprisingly, many of the children chose not to wait and ate their marshmallow before the instructor returned. However, several children were able to delay their gratification and receive the two marshmallows. Dr. Mischel followed that group of children for about 50 years after the experiment, examining how the ability to delay gratification affected many aspects of their lives. He found that the children who were able to delay gratification had lower BMIs as adults, less addiction rates, higher SAT scores, and even a lower rate of divorce.  Dr. Mischel also noted that the children who showed great self-control were “more able to sustain effort and deal with frustration” when pursuing their goals.

This study greatly illustrates the importance of teaching children how to have self-control and delay gratification. As parents, there are many simple ways we can teach and model to our children how to delay gratification.  We will look at ways to do this in next week’s blog.