An experiment by Walter Mischel, psychologist, tested the willpower of children. The “marshmallow test” was set up where a child was given a single marshmallow. If they wanted two marshmallows, then the child would have to wait until the researcher returned to the room with the second one. If the child could not wait to eat the marshmallow, then they would only get one. A video link to an example of the test can be found here.
As a parent, you may be wondering what you can do to help your child delay gratification. Here are a few things that can be done to promote self-regulatory behaviors with your child:
Make them wait.
The best thing you can do to help your child delay gratification is by making them wait. Watch to see if your child distracts themselves to avoid the temptation. One technique that can help the waiting process is by gradually increasing the time they need to wait. For example, the first time you tell them they need to wait only do 1-3 minutes. From there, you can increase the time so they understand the process of waiting.
It is easy for children to get carried away by their emotions. Helping them verbalize what they are feeling can help them understand how to control their impulses. Putting a word to their feelings, such as mad, angry, frustrated, or sad, helps them recognize their body’s reaction in a healthy way. Once they identify how they are feeling, it is important to set limits to help them understand how to regulate their emotions.
Don’t let the hot override the cool.
Mischel described impulse reactions in two different systems, “cool” and “hot.” The cool system helps us to think about our feelings and actions in perspective of our ultimate goal. All of that can be overridden by the hot system of reflexes, which leads to giving into impulses. To help children stay in control of their cool system, you can play games or activities that encourage self-control. “Red light, Green light,” and “Simon Says” test the child’s ability to stay in control and allows them to practice self-regulation.
Make goals and start saving.
Helping your child set goals teaches them the importance of working towards a specific outcome. If your child constantly asks for a toy each time you go to the store, encourage them to set a goal to work towards earning that toy. Set up a system where your child can earn money or points to buy it themselves. This teaches them how to save up for something they want. Other examples could be marble jars, sticker charts, or collecting tickets.