Delayed Gratification – What Has It Got To Do With Your Children’s Success?

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What is one thing we always ask about successful people? Wouldn’t we want to know what they are like, what kind of personalities they have, how intelligent they are, what sort of lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with? Shouldn’t we also ask where they are from, what type of upbringing did they undergo in order to unearth the logic behind their success?


Achievement is through preparation, and success is a predictable course.


You will be wondering what has this got to do with delay gratification; what has it got to do with successful people. I am going to touch on ‘The Marshmallow Experiment’ designed by Walter Mischel, who was a Stanford professor. He came up with this idea in the 1960s, where he conducted experiments with children between the ages of 4 to 5, and the theory was followed up by researchers for the subsequent forty years.


What is ‘The Marshmallow Experiment?’


The experiment was conducted in a small room whereby each child was greeted by a marshmallow on a table upon entering. The instructions given by the researcher to the child was: the researcher was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow until his return, the child would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher returns, then he or she would not get a second marshmallow.

So, should it be one treat right now or two treats later?

Some children gave in to the temptations while a few others resisted well. The researchers followed up with the children for over the next forty years and the results are surprising. The children who were willing to wait for the researcher to be back into the room for their second treat were found to have higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better response to stress and better social skills as reported by their parents. This experiment has substantiated the fact that the ability to delay gratification was critical for success in life.

This brings us to a few question, do some children simply have more self-control than others? Or can this trait actually be developed?

Another group of researchers from the University of Rochester decided to imitate ‘The Marshmallow Experiment,’ but with a twist. Before the marshmallow was offered, the children were divided into two groups.

The first group was exposed to unreliable experiences, where the researcher gave the children small boxes of crayons and promised to hand out bigger boxes to them, but never did; gave the children stickers and promised to distribute a better selection of stickers to them, but never did.

The second group of children had undergone reliable experiences, whereby what was promised by the researcher was delivered to them.

I believe you have since then understood where this is going by now. The impressions left by the children were based on the importance of their trust on the person (i.e. researcher) to fulfill his promises and words. The children from the first group did not wait long before gobbling the first marshmallow, whereas the second group sees the positivity of delayed gratifications. Whenever the researcher made a promise and fulfilled it, the child’s brain registered two things:

1) Waiting for to be gratified is worth it

2) I have the capability and patience to wait

As a result, the second group waited for an average of four times longer than the first group but were far more satisfied than the first group.

Why don’t you train your child to complete all the difficult tasks on hand before he or she goes out to play? For instance, completing his or her daily homework before granting him or her the liberty to head out to play.

Success does not come easy as it involves a lot of hard work and practice. Strive to avoid the easy way out and give your child a conducive and trusting environment to grow up in.