Marshmallows teach us a lot!

I was at a fantastic conference for neuropsychologists two weeks ago. That’s where other blogs have come from, and future ones will as well. I also just purchased a book on the importance of sleep on the neurological development on the brain. You all are in for a treat!!

One of the presentations at the conference (given by Ida Sue Baron, PhD, ABPP) talked about the marshmallow test I learned about in graduate school. I believe the original study was done in 1972.

Four- and five- year-olds are seated at tables in a classroom. They are told that they will be given one marshmallow to eat, but if they keep themselves from eating it while the adult steps out of the room for two or three minutes, they will get a second marshmallow. Eat one now, or wait and get two later.

You can probably guess. Many of the children ate the marshmallow right away. But the interesting thing is that those children who were able to wait and therefore earned the second marshmallow did better in school.

Dr. Baron shared that approximately 600 of these children were revisited twenty years later. The children who ate the marshmallow were described as frustrated, impulsive, indecisive, and disorganized. The children who earned the second marshmallow were described as self-reliant and confident…and they had higher SAT scores. The children who had eaten the marshmallow were also more prone to obesity.

The question for us as parents, then, is: can we teach our children to be patient? I don’t know that a study has actually been done, but I firmly believe that we can. There are so many physiological changes in the brains of our children as they grow, we have a lot of influence.

My problem is that I don’t consider myself very patient. How can I teach patience? Well, one way is to have children earn rewards over longer and longer periods of time. For example, if there is a toy they want, have them do chores around the house and earn money for them. They can save up to then buy the toy themselves. This approach also helps teach children about money management. It is also more gratifying for the child to have made such a wonderful accomplishment.

As a country, I think we are all prone to buying things right when we want them. That partially explains the vast amounts of credit card debt we have. Rather than save for something, we tend to buy first and think, “Well, I’ll get it now, then make payments instead of saving and then buying.”

The problem with that is that we end up paying more for the item because we pay interest as well. And credit card interest is HIGH!

It’s a good idea to let grandparents in on the plan, too, though.

I usually give the coins in my purse to my grandson (age 5) when I visit. The last time I gave him coins, he put them all in a bank labelled “toys.” As he was putting them in, I asked why it was labelled. He told me that he had two other banks. One was labelled “savings” and one was labelled “Fund.” (That one was for the Baha’i Fund, which would be similar to the collection plates in churches.)

I asked, “Would you like to put some coins in those banks?” (He was now nearly done with the task.) “No,” he said. “I’ll just put them in here.”


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

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