What if I was to tell you there is one test you can give your child today that will predict how successful he or she will be in the future. It’s simple too and it involves a marshmallow. Also, don’t worry if your preschooler doesn’t pass the test, because I’m also going to give you some strategies that you can work on to make sure that your children have what it takes to accomplish their goals moving forward in life!
In the 1970s, The researcher Walter Mischel conducted the legendary marshmallow test with 4 year old preschoolers at the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University. He then tracked these children for 5 decades to discover that the ones that passed the test were healthier (they had lower body mass index), did better on their SATs, made more money in their jobs, had lower divorce rates, and you get the picture, had a better overall quality of life.
So let’s talk about the marshmallow test. Preschoolers were put an empty room with bare walls. They were each shown a tray of marshmallows or other treats and told to pick one that he or she would like. Then came the hard part. The experimenter told the child, “You can have your treat now, if you want. But if you don’t eat it until I come back from running an errand, you can have two then.”
The room did not have any distractions: no toys, no books, not even a picture. Self-control was a major feat for a 4-year old under such dire conditions. In the original study, about a third grabbed the marshmallow on the spot. Another third or so waited the endless fifteen minutes until they were rewarded with two (the other third fell somewhere in the middle).
What this study shows is that kids who can fight off the temptation of the marshmallow can reallocate their attention. These kids were able to distract themselves by: singing songs, pretend playing, covering their eyes, and even talking to themselves (like my daughter does in the video above). If they just stared at the marshmallow, often time that marshmallow was a goner! This “strategic allocation of attention” can help children achieve other goals in life because they scored higher on measures of self-control.
So how can parents help their kids if they don’t pass this test. The researcher Mischel taught children strategies or simple mental tricks that would change their relationship with the marshmallow. In the video above, my daughter touches the marshmallow and then—she imagines the marshmallow to be a squishy slime!
The researcher Mischel taught them to imagine that the marshmallow is just a picture with a frame around it. Suddenly that irresistible marshmallow became something that they could pretend was not real. Changing their relationship to the marshmallow was key! This helped them delay their gratification and resist the temptation. So parents, teach your kids some mental strategies to help them achieve their goals today!