The Marshmallow Test wanted to prove simply this: Children with better self-control are generally more successful later in life.
Well, without going into the details of “what success means” or “how much later success should come”, or “self-control in which area”, I will like to comment on the interesting reactions that were observed of the children while the test was conducted.
Let’s just say that self-control is indeed one of the must-have armaments for success in life. Just how, then, do we instill this in our children?
All children, be it through nature or nurture, have their own innate natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Parents will attest to this. Sometimes children just behave the way they do, and we have NO CLUE where they picked up it from! (Although the prime suspect is the TV…)
If you haven’t watched the video, YOU SHOULD. Apart from how adorable these kids are, we can also observe the behavior these children portray. For example, some children started crawling away small pieces of the marshmallow, some stuffed it up their noses, while some self-entertained as if to distract themselves. Of course, there are those whose marshmallow is ALREADY IN THEIR MOUTHS before the instructions were finished!
For children who took the experiment as a pair with their sibling, having one marshmallow each, things got even more interesting. Some may think that it will be easier because there is someone there to remind you of the “right thing” to do. Well, one kid in the video kept pointing out to his sister (presumably) that she ISN’T doing the right thing! Beyond verbal criticism, reminding her that her second marshmallow is slipping away, he didn’t really do much, such as to physically stop her.
Let’s just call these their innate natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, also known as their TALENTS. Talents are used to describe something that we are inclined to do.
Having some exposure to the Gallup StrengthsFinder, I can’t help but map some of these behaviors to Gallup’s “Talent Themes”. Talent Themes are simply clusters of similar or related behavior.
There are Talent Themes that tend to produce contrasting outcomes that can be easily observed in the kids. Such as the talent theme of “Activator” and “Focus”. Activators tend to jump at the first thing that gets their attention and express it through action, while people with Focus tend to have intense concentration on the end goal, which in this case, is earn their second marshmallow. These themes do not just apply to children but adults as well.
Stephen homed in on the topic of self-control and self-reward from the parenting point of view. He says that the tricky thing about inculcating self-control and self-reward in children is that children model the way their parents perform self-control and self-reward on themselves, not what they tell them. If we impose high standards on our children but low standards on ourselves, guess which standard are they going to follow?
So, as adults, we need to curb our impulses too, such as overeating or being addicted to social media. Stephen shared some helpful techniques — such as “If-Then” implementation plans (e.g. “If I approach the fridge, then I will not open the [fridge] door” – for those who want to control over-eating.). As kids grow older, and start to be able to rationalize the world, perhaps this can also be a method that we share with our kids.
Inter-personal interactions add an additional dimension to Talent Themes. “Restorative” talent themes tend to identify possible problems automatically, such as the boy that constantly tries to explain to his sister who is not doing “the right thing” (i.e. the “problem”).
If self-control is “WHAT” we want to help our children achieve, we need to pay attention to “HOW” we can best achieve it with them. Some children tend to show “Activator” behavior, and thus telling them “NO, don’t do that” is not helpful. Perhaps directing their attention to do something that strengthens things they already know, or just putting in place a meaningful distraction is a better option. If a child tends to show “Restorative”, he/she loves to help. Maybe we should delegate small tasks to them.
The point is this: Self-control is the “WHAT”, our children’s natural behavior is the “HOW”. The “hows” of adults are usually very different from children, so let’s do less assuming and do more observing. Understanding their innate, natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving gives us a good chance of being rocking good, sensitive parents whose ON TOP OF THE GAME ; ).
It’s natural for us parents during our parenting journey that we want the best life possible for our children.
But in the sea of parenting techniques available, it’s hard to choose one, if not choose any; techniques and methods to add to your parenting style.
But if you’re exasperated because you can’t seem to find a right solution to raise your child, maybe you can consider Strengths based parenting.
Strengths not only allow you to better understand your children, but also lets you improve your parenting journey in a natural and logical way that brings out the best life in both you and your child.