Tag Archive for delayed gratification

5 Surprising Ways Children Learn Self-Control

Self-control is a skill that will serve our children well for a lifetime. In fact, the classic “Marshmallow Experiment” suggested that preschoolers who had enough self-control to delay gratification and wait for a bigger reward had higher SAT scores as late teens. They were also more likely to be described as positive, self-motivated, self-confident, and persistent at the end of high school. We all want that for our children, right?  So how can we teach our children self-control? There are many ways to teach our children self-control, but I want to share five somewhat surprising ways to promote self-control in our children.

  • Model self-control. I know that doesn’t sound so surprising. In fact, it’s rather obvious. It’s so obvious we probably need a little motivation to do it…AND that brings me to the surprising part of modeling self-control. A study that followed almost 1,000 people from the age of 3-years to 45-years found that children who exhibited a higher level of self-control walked faster, had younger looking faces, and had healthier bodies when they became adults! In other words, practicing self-control not only teaches our children a great life skill, it also helps us look and feel younger. Want to look and feel younger? Practice self-control and model it for our children.
  • Encourage your child to talk to themselves. One study found that saying the name of an object while looking for it made the person better able to find the object than simply thinking about it. (I have tested this one and it works for me.) Another study suggested that talking to oneself about a task increases that person’s ability to restrain impulses (AKA, practice self-control). Encouraging your child to talk to themselves as they engage in an activity can also help them restrain impulses and remain focused. This also means that yelling at our children may interfere with their self-control. Why? Because our yelling will compete with their own self talk. Our loud words will silence their self-talk and interfere with their self-control, leaving them open to more impulsive behaviors. Stop yelling at your children and encourage them to talk to themselves.
  • Give your children time to play with their father. According to a review of 78 studies, children who played with their fathers had more self-control as they matured. Fathers tend to engage in “rough and tumble play” which helped their children learn to better regulate their feelings and behaviors. Overall, children who played more with their fathers exhibited better emotional and behavioral regulations as well a lower risk of hyperactivity. Dads, teach your children self-control. Play with them.
  • Teach your child to practice gratitude every day.  Research suggest that daily gratitude increases self-control and reduces impulsive behaviors.
  • Keep your promises and prove yourself reliable. A study published in 2013 repeated the marshmallow study with a variation. In this study, the children either experienced an adult who followed through on his promise or one who did not. Then the children were presented with the opportunity to wait with one marshmallow to get a second one or simple eat the one marshmallow. Those who had previously experienced a reliable adult practiced more self-control. They were better able to wait for the second marshmallow. Keeping your promises to your children helps them learn and practice self-control.

Practicing these five surprising tips will help your children develop self-control. And that self-control will benefit them for a lifetime. Isn’t that a great gift to give your children?

Self-Control, Smartphones, Rewards, & Success

Researchers from Freie Universitat in Berlin Germany published some interesting findings about smartphones, self-control, and rewards. Specifically, their research revealed that participants who “had a greater total amount of screen time (spent more time on their phones and tablets) were more likely to prefer small, immediate rewards to larger, more delayed rewards,” especially when screen time was spent on gaming and social media.

In addition, participants with greater self-control spent less time on their phones while those with lower levels of self-control spent more time on their phone. Altogether, more time on smartphones, especially in combination with lower levels of self-control and a preference for gaming and social media, was associated with a preference for smaller, more immediate goals. Limited self-control and a preference for smaller, more immediate goals sounds like a formula to impede success, doesn’t it? After all, success generally implies a level of self-control that enables a person to persist through struggles and setbacks, delaying the immediate, easy reward, so they can achieve the larger more challenging goal.

The authors were not saying smartphones caused or led to less self-control and a preference for smaller, more immediate goals. In fact, I tend to think that people who struggle with self-control are likely drawn to the gaming and social media apps because they offer smaller, more immediate rewards. It satisfies their need for reward without having to manage the frustration of persisting through the greater struggles necessary for a long-term reward. The gaming and social media apps may simply reinforce those tendencies. So, the question is not whether a person should have a smartphone or engage in gaming or social media—our children will do that just like we do. No, the question is: how do we teach our children self-control?

  1. Model self-control. Children emulate what they see. Practice self-control when in traffic, when in disagreements. The more children see you practice self-control, the more likely they will practice self-control as well.
  2. Build a trusting relationship with your child. The more reliable you are, the easier it is for your children to practice self-control. Follow through on your word. Do what you promise. Build a reputation as trustworthy and your children will likely grow in self-control.
  3. Give your children the opportunity to wait—it’s a gift. Receiving everything immediately will hamper your children’s development of self-control. Learning that “good things come to those who wait” and “effort over time contributes to success” can promote the development of self-control. Teach your child the art of waiting.
  4. Encourage self-control practices. When you see your children getting upset, present them with ideas that promote self-control. For instance, you could encourage them to soothe themselves: “Take a moment to pull yourself together and we can talk about it then,” Or “Take a deep breath and calm down so you can manage this better.” “I wonder how your friend feels about this?” can offer them the opportunity to take a different person’s perspective, which will help them develop self-control. On the other hand, “How does this decision fit into your goals?” encourages them to keep their priorities and goals in mind as they move through the world. This, too, will help them develop self-control. Each time you encourage your children to soothe themselves, consider another person’s perspective, practice self-awareness, or keep goals and values in mind you help them grow in self-control. (For more ideas, read Teach Your Child Self-Control.)