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Delayed Gratification equals Success: do you believe it?

My line of work brings me into contact with lots of schools, many of them charter schools or alternative schools.  One site visit last week brought me to a charter school in a low-income neighborhood, where the administrator stated a few times that the staff believes in the studies of delayed gratification where they result in better adult outcomes: more success in school, career and life.  

I had never heard of the "marshmallow experiment" wherein researchers presented children with a marshmallow, stating that - if they waited - they could have two marshmallows instead.  That was in 1972.  After following those same marshmallow kids, the ones that delayed their marshmallow desires to wait for the two marshmallow treat were the ones that got better grades.  AND: they dealt with stress better and they were less likely to be obese and on and on.

Having never heard of this study and having never really noticed my kids' abilities to delay gratification, I suddenly started to notice.  My teenager wolfed down some brownies the other day immediately when she got home from saying "Oh my god, I am so hungry."  My five-year old boy spied a new Matchbox car at the store, and when I said: "your birthday is in just a week; let's put this on your wish list!",  he burst into a tantrum unable to fathom waiting.

Does this mean they will be less likely to succeed when they grow up?  Should I be training them to withhold pleasure and delay gratification?



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I just read the book David and Goliath which gave some more context to that experiment. Basically it is not as black and white as delaying a marshmallow and being successful. The children who were more successful had more information AND something to distract them as they spent their time waiting. We all make impulse decisions and in short, I wouldn't worry about your kids!

Buildling on what Pauline said, you can work with your kids on tools to help them wait and not act on impulse - it's not just genetic. Good skills to have for anybody. There is also a great RadioLab segment about this. http://www.radiolab.org/story/96056-your-future-marshmallow/

I'd have been the kid who ate the one marshmellow because I actually may not have wanted the two... sometimes, I just don't want more of 'stuff'. If it's buy 2 get 1 free and I only want 1... I'm likely to only buy the 1, not save the others. If what is here and now seems good enough and what's on the horizon doesn't seem all that much better... I may not choose to wait. I see this in my child too- if he can get the same pleasure from a $5 toy as a $25, why save up for the other?

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